My Best Friend in LA -- Tony Hernandez -- May Be Gone. Send Prayers

Dear friends and supporters:

For the past eight days, we've been dealing with the possible death of my best friend in LA, Tony Hernandez. Last Thursday, Tony called our mutual friend, Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist and long-time colleague in the work I've done with Mosaic Multicultural Foundation's men's conferences. In fact, Jacob from Mosaic was the first to call me. Tony has been part of our week-long events at the Woodland Camp in Mendocino for a few years.

The content of the phone call to Jack was that Tony had swallowed a lethal number of sleeping pills and was going to die. He wanted to give messages to his girlfriend Caroline, his daughter Zoe, and myself that he's "done," he's ready to go. According to Jack, his voice sounded peaceful. Jack's daughter found the message on the phone machine and even called Tony back. By then he was apparently mostly incoherent, saying he'd taken more pills, and then he hung up. More calls failed to get any answers.

Jack contacted 911, which took a while since he's in the Bay Area and Tony lived in LA. Finally, I understand, paramedics went to Tony's house, as did Caroline, but he was not to be found. His Toyota pick up truck was also missing.

Since then Caroline and others have tried to trace any activity on the phone, his bank account, credit cards, and email address. But nothing. Since that phone call there has been no indication that Tony is using any of these. This does indicate he is probably gone. Police now have a missing person's report and we hope they will do what they can to find Tony's truck. We're concerned now that he may have gone to the desert or some secluded area to die, and his body is sitting out there.

Of course, a few family members and friends still harbor the idea he may still be alive. But Tony was a genuine and serious person. He wouldn't play games. He's been suicidal for a long time--I've known him for ten years and he's been this way since I've known him.

Tony was a heavily tattooed Mayan-descended young man from the indigenous lands of southern Mexico and Guatemala. He grew up in the barrios of Orange County, got involved with gangs and heroin. He was once shot and also spent seventeen years in prison and juvenile lockups. His heroin addiction lasted more than twenty years, but he's had sporadic relapses over the past ten years since we met. He's been part of NA meetings, sweat lodge healing circles, Buddhist circles, and has gone to rehabilitation.

Tony first heard of me by reading my book "Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in LA" in prison. He's a voracious reader, but the book really impacted him. I wrote Tony briefly when he was incarcerated. After getting released about ten years ago, I met Tony through our mutual friend Luis Ruan. I liked him from the start--he was intelligent, articulate, and generous. He was funny, sharp, and he and I talked the same language, drawing from the same dark well that many vatos from the streets and pintos carry with them.

Over ten years, Luis, myself and others helped mentor Tony into a good life--with a wonderful girlfriend, Caroline, and through the cultural space my wife Trini and I helped create, Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural. Tony had been with Tia Chucha's since the beginning, always volunteering his time and helping. In fact, the most recent things he did was helped build a new wall for our supplies and to help us move boxes, deli cases and shelves from our old space to the new space.

Tony and I had plans -- for media interviews, talks to kids, work at my home, for more help at Tia Chucha's. I'm working on a documentary film that Tony was going to be instrumental in. I wanted to have Tony around for many, many years to come. But despite his well-loved side, full of personality and energy, he also had a complicated dark unmoveable part of him--a part nobody could seem to reach.

The closest I remember reaching him was when he joined five of us from the San Fernando Sweat Lodge Circle to Peru about three years ago for a spiritual journey. He loved Peru--the people, the sounds, the ceremonies. The Quechua people connected well to his Mayan roots. Our hope was that he could join us for a future trip.

I think one of the painful things has been Tony's layoff from construction work that he liked very much. Not many people would hire felons like Tony. The construction work kept him busy but also gave him invaluable skills. Times are hard, as everyone knows, and I believe the layoffs and lack of work for people like Tony contributed to him wanting to check out. I know many people who feel the same way.

Again, we don't have definite proof he's gone and we pray that we find his body so we can know for sure. But we're all feeling the absence. In my heart, I sense he's in the other world. I sense he's spirit now.

I will miss my friend very much. I know he may be in a better place, at peace, but I will still feel his loss for the rest of my life. Such a big-hearted and beautiful person always leaves big holes in the world, in our hearts, and I will have one for Tony that will not be easily filled.

Tony was a deeply honest and feeling person. He recoiled at the pervasive dishonesty and bullshit around him and the world. Many of us have learned to negotiate this madness and still keep our hearts intact, but for Tony his heart was too big and the world didn't seem big enough to welcome such a generous and open person.

I pray Tony is at peace, safe, in the arms of the Creator. If he's alive and just needs to get away--something I doubt very much--I also wish him well. Either way, Tony seems to be gone from our lives. Please send prayers for Tony, his family, particularly his daughter Zoe, for Caroline, and all his friends at Tia Chucha's, the San Fernando Sweat Lodge Circle as well the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation.

We love you, Tony.


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