From Gang Member To Mom

At Age 18, She Already Has A Family

Four years ago, Melissa Orona was a loyal gang member.

Back then, Orona, who lives in Sunnyside, Washington, lived with fear every day. "What I think is sad about my life is knowing that I can't even walk the streets because I'm afraid I'm going to get shot or killed," she said then. Peter Van Sant finds out what has happened to Melissa since then.



One of the few bright spots in Melissa's life was her mother, Ulalia Pena, who feared for her daughter and worried about her ending up dead or in jail.

After seeing a 48 Hours segment about her, Melissa felt ashamed of herself. She realized that she had to change - and she did. Within a year, she had transformed her life.

She was working hard in school, managing her school's softball team, and planning to graduate with the Class of 2000.

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b>"I had so many goals and dreams for myself in the future," she says. "I guess I got fed up with [gang life] and I wanted to make those goals and dreams come true." She wanted to be a lawyer. Melissa and her mother were getting along very well.

Then, at 15, Melissa got pregnant. At the same age, her mother had gotten pregnant with her.

Within a few months, Melissa's relationship with her mother grew tense. Melissa wanted to be independent, while her mother believed that she didn't understand the responsibilities that motherhood would entail.

Melissa also worried that Daniel, the father of her baby, would leave her. "I always tell him it's the number one thing I'm afraid of is him leaving me by myself after him telling me 'I'm gonna be there for you,'" she said at the time.

Daniel himself admitted to being uneasy about impending fatherhood.

But Daniel did not leave. Just last month in Sunnyside, Daniel married Melissa. They now have a daughter named Natalia.

"I'm proud of myself," Daniel says. "I had to become responsible, become like a full man, not like a childish man. I had to just grow up."

At 22, Daniel has a steady job. Now 18, Melissa is a full-time mom. She's pregnant with their second child, and wants to have two more.

Melissa says that she still dreams of college, but will not be abe to go right now. Family comes first, she says.

She is happy with her life. "I see myself as a success," she says. "I feel the choices I made and the things I chose to do makes me feel I succeeded in life."

Having gone from teen-age gang member to teen-age mom, Melissa is living her own version of the American Dream.

She already has new dreams for her children. "I don't want them to look at life the way I used to look at life back then," she says. "My goals for them is just raising them right, and just teaching them the values of life."

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