By Jesse Herwitz

At 11, Valdrin “Drino” Hajdinocei, had to grow up quickly on the streets of Albania. One afternoon, while he was playing soccer, a fight began on the opposite end of the field. Shkelzen, Drino’s closest friend, watched as his brother was attacked by a gang of youths. As Shkelzen approached, one of the boys pulled out a pistol, pointed it at his head and squeezed the trigger.

“He died innocent,” says Drino. “We knew each other since we were kids. He was just trying to stop the fight. After that I always carried a gun with me.”

Today, a decade later, Drino recalls the story, sipping an espresso, in the tranquility of a small town in Italy. He sits comfortably at a table. The bells from the Municipal Building ring and Drino’s long, brown hair sways as he turns his head to look at them. His eyes speak years of hardship, but a wide smile reveals his continuing innocence. Life is different for him now.

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