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Tucson Salvage

A prison redemption, a trailblazing trans life, and unlikely nuptials from opposite worlds



There's something almost formal and studied in Del Hendrixson Jr.'s affect, not like he's been media coached or over-schooled; more like someone who has dealt closely with many rungs of human existence. But if questions probe too much, he deflects with queries of his own. When he quizzes this digit, it's the only time he seems insincere, yet to be the focus of his attention is flattering. There's his power. A born leader, more minister than Manson.

"I just learned from my dad," Hendrixson says. "If you're not in control, someone else is. My dad was very powerful."

In the early '80s Hendrixson got popped for forgery; creating false birth certificates and Social Security cards for undocumented immigrants. He did a year in a federal pen (documented in a 2011 Tucson Weekly story). "I'd become a monster in prison," he says. "You learn to brutalize in prison. I felt like a garbage can."

Soon after, the self-hatred peaked and Hendrixson procured an Uzi. He was literally going to go postal. He was going to murder innocent people at a post office. But his mind got in the way. To hear him tell it, it "could've been God's voice." He pauses, adds with no irony, "It was a voice, and a light" telling him to help others. "This message made sense to me."

After a pause, he adds, "Look, I'm fucking crazy. I really am bonkers. But it's a disciplined insanity."

Instead of murdering people, he launched Bajito Onda, a still-going nonprofit ministry (minus the religious dogma) and foundation for community peace and development. It's a Latino brand too, employing Chicano and prisoner artists, enlisting their designs for commercial purposes, with little offshoot startups like 420 Bake On Glass that creates proprietary glass-infused decals licensed to national bong and pipe manufacturers. Bajito Onda is funded through these operations. His client list now includes Procter and Gamble, Eagle Eye, Illadelph Glass and others. Hendrixson's a master printer, able to "print anything on anything."

At 71, Hendrixson is a freakily ageless ex-con with a Southern drawl, raised in Arkansas and Texas. Soft in the middle with snow-colored indoor pallor, sprawling tats and a shocking gray spiked coif. He also happens to have been born a girl.

"If your brain doesn't match your body, oh, well. Everybody just get over it." Hendrixson was an outsider and a trailblazer long before Candy Darling or jazz great Billy Tipton's transgender stories were widely known, much less accepted. He has an unpublished autobiography, My Transgender Life, Confusion and Conquests, that detail his early life story. It's a heady timepiece of 1960s and '70s mores, sex, and identity chaos. Late author Robin Moore (who penned, among other bestsellers, The Green Berets, The French Connection and The Happy Hooker: My Own Story, with Xaviera Hollander) helped Hendrixson with the book, which was actually published in the late 1970s on Moore's own imprint, but, for whatever reason, was never distributed. The book might finally see light soon.

Del Hendrixson Jr. and wife Hiracy.
  • Del Hendrixson Jr. and wife Hiracy.
Hendrixson's spirit has had to overcome and survive a lot in this life. And finally, he has been rewarded with true love.

The dark-skinned Hiracy is 31, lovely like Lais Ribeiro's sister, was a cop and banker in Brazil, owns a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. She was born to a tribe in the Amazon rainforest. Through a friend, Hendrixson became her online English teacher.

"I'd been talking to her on the phone. One day she said 'I like you.' I was trying to teach her English. Soon she said, 'I really like you.' I said, 'We have to talk about my age,' and she said 'Why?'"

* * * 

We're in the front office of Hendrixson's smallish warehouse near Armory Park. The words "Bajito Onda" greet visitors on the front door and inside walls are filled with awards and certificates, prison art, pics of Hiracy, her two children, all happy. There's a pair of workshops with printing presses and a mad collection of more prison art in back, and ad hoc living quarters.

Hiracy's on Skype on Hendrixson's iPhone. Her English is pretty good, and his Portuguese is coming along. She's in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas in northern Brazil, with her two boys, aged 9 and 11, who still live there.

"Our goal is to get the children here," Hendrixson says. "Until then she goes back and forth, three or four times a year. It's not what we want, but that's how it is right now."

They're glued to one another, he says, and she nods in agreement. They often talk 30 times a day when she's away. When he first traveled to Brazil to meet her, she locked him in a room for a few weeks. Jealousy. It's true, she tells me.

"When in the Amazon, do as the Indians," Hendrixson adds as a way of explanation. "She wanted to know what I was about. It was her way. She's very puritanical. I sat in that room and wondered ..."

He adds, "Haters all over the world told her I was a womanizer. Now the Indians call me The Diamond; it's my skin color, I'm tall, and my hair."

Hiracy’s Del Tattoo.
  • Hiracy’s Del Tattoo.

Each other's names are tattooed on their person, and Hiracy lifts her forearm and knuckle to show me his names.

The two were married by her tribe in 2014, and married here a year later.

"Her uncles did a blessing over us there," he says. "They had to feel our energies."

They went through proper channels, got her green card. "He is very precise. And I'm not too stupid, so we make an awesome team."

He sometimes resorts to kid-voiced sweetnesses: "She treats me like a little baby. She bathes me. She dresses me. She's also powerful, and it's primal."

Hiracy grew up in a Tupinamba tribe, where, Hendrixson says, "her father is connected to animals—his whole life is connecting to animals." She's considered royalty in the tribe, but she left and went to college. Now she shoots them with her camera in the rainforest.

When Hendrixson boasts of his wife's beauty and intelligence it's helping him define who he is. Her life ratifies his. He talks of their lives together, partners in Bajito Onda. Says there's no self-consciousness, "our relationship is totally uninhibited."

* * *

When Hendrixson arrived in Tucson in 2009, he knew no one, and his head was a mess. He left his Dallas office and workshop and printing machinery behind. He was done in Texas, especially Dallas, a place where "everybody dies. It's horrible there, all plastic ..."

"In East Dallas if you're not aggressive you're a victim," he says. "I got to Tucson and no one is aggressive. It blew my mind. I was more exposed to the world here. Bajito Onda was my whole world. No one knew about it here. Someone said, 'Do you even know who you are?' Bajito Onda was the vehicle for me to do something, but I never truly understood who I was."

He found help at La Frontera. "Taught me how to be vulnerable," he says. "And it was hard."

Hendrixson's dad was a strict-at-home WWII colonel, and Hendrixson idolized him. He wasn't close to his mom and sister. They all disowned him when he went to prison.

He lived in rural Mexico for a year and learned Spanish. But lived mainly in Dallas, where he "walked with snakes and rats" and "became one of the most violent people I knew."

Cisco (foreground) at Hendrixson at decal work.
  • Cisco (foreground) at Hendrixson at decal work.

Since prison, Hendrixson has helped many people through his Bajito Onda. A 2005 Dallas Observer cover story tells of his rescuing lost and violent people from themselves, "and cleansing them and sending them out to live normal, healthy, productive, happy lives." Not much has changed.

He's still helping families deal with violent deaths of loved ones. Helping with gang members, drug addicts; he's helped folks reenter worlds after brutal prison runs. He's been commended for it, received citations from the Governor of Texas and international conferences for at-risk youth. He has spoken at United Nations conferences and at universities, and he has taken gang members to conferences on youth crime prevention. Started outreach programs in prisons and has given talks at law enforcement agencies.

And Bajito Onda has little chapters in other parts of the world, in Europe, Brazil and Mexico. It's a foundation, a way of life, he says. A loose-knit collective that's internet connected. It's not a cult, nor a church.

"It's more like DACA," Hendrixson says. "But it's an underground society."

Bajito Onda has also helped prisoners through their creative work. Hendrixson befriended many of these prisoner artists over the years, helped them toward rehabilitation. Others are beyond reclamation, just completely insane. "But genius," Hendrixson says. "It's not ugly prison art, it's art from the hands of prisoners."

Hendrixson’s prison art.
  • Hendrixson’s prison art.

His collection of Chicano and prisoner art is huge. Many of the prison artists are criminally insane—having murdered children and whole families. So some of the cellblock visions collected on a table in his workshop stun; invocations especially effective for the heartsick and the lost. And the madnesses and sadnesses are palpable. Pencil-drawn lines turn symbolic with street-desperate arcs, honed by thousands and thousands of hours of practice. One shows a Native American's vision of death and faith and sex depicted in images of lovers and mothers. Another shows a head and razor-sharp teeth and foul light floating from eye sockets, while the seven deadly sins are spelled out and float about mockingly. One brutal self-portrait in pencil is surrounded by symbols of human struggle and peace, and the equally unattainable and heavily sexualized female form, and it's pure yearning.

Hendrixson claims the foundation has a half-million followers and fans throughout the world. The number's difficult to verify, but Bajito Onda's presence is out there.

"I was insane when I got out of prison—a total piece of shit," he says. "When you're in prison, your mind is free but your body is frozen. It's the opposite when you get out."

He adds, "Bajito Onda was about helping other people, and, oh, by the way, it helped me."

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