Youth Torn Between Gangs and the Government

Stories by Monte Reel, Washington Post Staff Writer | Photos by Fred Alves for The Washington Post

Technically Speaking

Brazil Portrait 1
Joel Ferreira Silvestre, 17, doesn't want to join a gang. He hopes to enlist in the army, or perhaps become a bus driver like his father.

Joel Ferreira Silvestre's eyes are constantly alighting on things that aren't quite on the up-and-up. The guy standing behind him inside the little one-table café is feeding money into a slot machine, hoping for a payoff. Technically speaking, it isn't legal, but does anyone really care? It's not like Joel or anyone else around here is going to call the cops.

"I'm afraid of the police," he says, echoing a common sentiment in the favela.

Joel, who will turn 18 this year, isn't a gang member and doesn't want to be one. He just wants to grow up, maybe get drafted by the army and leave the favela.

As he sits in the café, a man in a gray uniform passes on the sidewalk outside and stops at the sight of Joel. It's his father. He has just gotten off work with the municipal bus system, where he spends his days either driving buses or taking tickets. His dad tells Joel he'll be home, and Joel smiles and nods. He likes his dad, thinks he's a cool guy.

"We go to the beach, fly kites together," Joel says. "Sometimes he goes with me to play video games. I always win. He doesn't know much about video games."

Joel thinks if he doesn't get drafted, he'll try to be a bus driver like his dad. He recently started riding in one of the mini-vans that shuttle people around inside the favela -- a transportation system that isn't officially sanctioned by the city. Joel yells destinations out the window while a friend of his drives.

Technically speaking, it isn't legal. But does anyone really care? Next Story »

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