It’s been nearly five years since Julius Solis killed Alonzo Cavazos.
Since then, Julius’ life has been a routine imposed on him by the prison system. The 24-year-old exercises. His conversations revolve around TV shows, movies and what’s happening with people in East Chicago. And he thinks — a lot.
Julius said he doesn’t know how people outside of prison perceive inmates, but those locked up rely on communication from loved ones.
“You ain’t got nothing to look forward to in here,” he said. “Even if you sell a little drugs or whatever, mess with a chick C-O (correctional officer) — you ain’t got nothing.”
Julius and his family still mourn the death of his oldest brother, Javier Solis Jr., who was killed in a gang-related shooting in 2008.
“It’s really, really hard to know that my nephew lived a horrible life, then died a horrible death, then laid there like a dog gasping for air, breathing his last breath,” the boys’ aunt Francis Trevino said.
“And Julius having to watch and feeling like the only person that ever loved him is now gone. … People can say he’s a murderer. He’s there for murder. He is there for what he did. But he’s the victim. The only person who’s ever showed him love is gone now. What does he do with himself?
"If he was always Javo’s shadow, what does a shadow do without the person they follow? Who is he now? Where does he go? Who does he have?”
Most of Julius’ fellow Imperial Gangsters don’t visit or write him. Some have died since he's been locked up. Others, including Julius himself, were indicted on federal charges and went to prison after pleading guilty or being found guilty at trial.
Julius pleaded guilty to conspiracy to participate in racketeering and was sentenced in December to more than 11 years in prison. He is serving that sentence at the same time as an unrelated 30-year prison sentence for Cavazos' death.
He plans to get a college degree and open a bar “somewhere nice like Hobart or Merrillville” when he gets out of prison. Julius said he doesn’t want to return to East Chicago because there will be kids trying to make names for themselves by taking him down, or who will retaliate against him for what happened in the past.
Julius’ relationship with his mother, Nora Perez, is a roller coaster. He blames her for making mistakes and choosing the wrong men when he and his siblings were growing up.
During one prison visit, Julius told Nora she was a bad mother. She didn’t deny it.
“My every breath, every effort I’ve made, is to do for you and your brother,” Nora said she told him. “He’s not living, and neither are you. You’re not living. You’re just existing. … You don’t need to point out my failure as a parent. If I hadn’t failed you, you wouldn’t be here and your brother wouldn’t be there (in the ground).”
When Javier died, Nora was shattered.
She spent the first year after his murder in a fog. The second year, she drank excessively and tried to self-destruct. In the third year, she worked two jobs and concentrated on putting her life back together.
“I need to get myself out of this hole I’m in,” Nora said in early 2012.
Now, Nora says the devastation of losing Javier is still there but more manageable. She said she cries in the shower or car, where no one can hear her. She writes about her experiences. She also reads the Bible and self-help books.
“I’m not where I want to be, but I’m close,” she said. “I feel more normal than I have in a really long time.”
Nora said she sometimes thinks she was too hard on Julius and Javier. Yet she is also criticized for treating her younger two children, Isaiah Perez and Jovette McCarty, more like friends than son and daughter.
Isaiah eluded the gang lifestyle that consumed his older brothers by isolating himself. The 20-year-old is working and making plans to move to Texas. Jovette, 18, is pregnant with her second child. She didn’t graduate from high school.
Nora said she hasn’t gotten over Javier’s death.
“Having him at 17 is what motivated me to have hope,” she said. “He was my Band-Aid. He’s what kept me going.”
Javier planned to have five children of his own one day, Nora recalled. She said he took care of his siblings and fellow gang members. He was affectionate.
“You don’t appreciate it, those things for the value they are, until they’re no longer here,” she said.
Javier Solis Jr.’s grave is still unmarked. Twice a year — on Javier’s birthday and the anniversary of his murder — Nora and gang members visit his gravesite.
Nora said she hopes to make a down payment on Javier’s headstone later this year.
Javier and Julius’ friend, Claudio Martinez, made his own plans in the wake of Javier’s death. It was the first time he had witnessed a murder.
Claudio went through a period of guilt. He said if he hadn’t smoked weed, Javier might still be alive.
He also decided the man who killed Javier needed to die.
“That dude, he going to get his, man,” Claudio said in 2012.
“I don’t care if it’s in front of his kids. I don’t care if he got his kids in his arm. It’s gonna go down. If it’s in the grocery store or whatever, it’s going to go down. … I’ll feel the happiest after I do that. I’ll feel less stress on my chest.”
At the time, Claudio said he was unconcerned with what would happen afterward.
“I hope nothing does happen to none of my other dudes if I do something. But we all have our expiration dates,” he said.
“I don’t believe in jinx. I don’t believe in God or hell or the devil; I don’t know what they call them people, I just don’t believe in it. I believe in a place where we all go when we die. … You know, they say karma comes around or goes around or whatever? I make my karma come around. My karma I want to come around, I’ma try and make that happen.”
Today, Claudio has moved past his anger, Nora said. He declined to speak again with The Times, but Nora said he is working as a welder and has separated himself from gang life. He is saving money to help his mom and to help Julius when Julius is released from prison.
Nora said teens such as Claudio, Julius and the other Imperial Gangsters are considered menaces to society, when actually they are more products of their environment.
“They’re born into these situations,” Nora said. “We know there are alternatives, but we don’t give those to them. We’ve written them off with no hope, so they come together. Then they’re a gang, and it’s them against the world.
"They’re just lost people.”
Julius’ aunt Veronica Flores said she looks at gang members differently now.
“I’m telling you, none of these kids when they’re little grow up thinking, ‘When I grow up, I want to be homeless. When I grow up, I want to be in a dysfunctional family. When I grow up, I want my mom to be with 50 million men, or I want my dad to beat on my mom,’ ” Flores said.
“Nobody says that. These kids don’t desire to be in that life. And I have such a different outlook on it all.
"When I see these kids in the street, it breaks my heart. I may not even know who they are, but I know that they somehow had the same kind of story that Javo and Juju had. And it breaks my heart.”