Los Angeles, USA
By 13, she had started her own female gang. At 16, she led a merger with a powerful male gang. By 18, she had a criminal record. That same year, she was falsely charged and convicted of assault and battery; she was sentenced to 6 months in county jail but released 2 months later. Shortly after, she led a gun-fight raid on a rival gang’s home and was arrested for attempted murder. She served a 3-year sentence in state prison. It would have been easy to write Marianne Diaz off as a hopeless case.
LAPD Deputy Sheriff Ken Bell followed Marianne’s activities since her youth. Despite her mistakes, he saw leadership qualities in her. He recognized her good character, and knew she could make a positive difference in the community. He was waiting for her the day she got out of prison and encouraged her to use her talents for the good of the community. Youth Gang Services needed a person to negotiate between the gangs and she was hired as a community gang worker. She rose to the position of Regional Director. After 15 years, Marianne left to work at Southern California Counseling Center (SCCC) because she felt she was only orchestrating short term solutions instead of creating lasting peace. She believed hearts had to heal to change the cycle of gang violence.
In 1995, Marianne was undergoing the long and painful process of removing all her gang tattoos to remove the physical signs of the bad decisions she made it the past. In so doing, she realized that others needed a clean slate too. She founded CleanSlate to provide former gang members with affordable tattoo removal services. Since its humble beginnings, the organization has grown to provide access to rage resolution, counseling, and community development.
In 2016, Marianne expanded her work to support LGBT youth residing in Watts. She realized that the needs of the LGBT youth in the community were not being met and saw parallels with their struggles and those of former gang members. In both communities, anger and fear were driving factors and violence–towards others or towards themselves–was a likely outcome. Other service organizations in the area were afraid to provide support because of fear of the reaction of the community. These organizations needed someone to take the lead and prove that a program could be safely implemented in these neighborhoods before they were ready to pledge their support. Marianne stepped up. She began to implement LGBTQIA therapy sessions for the youth and their parents and the program can barely keep up with the demand from other LGBT youth who are eager for the same safe haven.