This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia
It wasn't one big shocking event that made Wulan Mayastika first wonder about her father's line of work. It was a gradual realization that things about her father just didn't add up. There was his name—he was born Gunardi but everyone in her neighborhood called her dad "Gun Jack" with a hint of respect and fear. Then, there was his job—he owned a bakso stall but he had a car full of weapons and a gang of men ready to use them.
"I first became suspicious that my father was a preman [Indonesian gangster] when I realized that his life cycle was the opposite of the rest of his family," Wulan says. "He worked during the night and slept during the day. When I was in elementary school, I started to think that something was odd because his friends were scary—they were big and they all carried weapons—but they were really friendly to me.
"Then one morning, my mom was driving me to school. As I was tying my shoelaces in the car, I reached down and I saw swords. I asked my mother who the swords belonged to and she said they belonged to my father."
Wulan grew up in Badran—a rough neighborhood in central Yogyakarta that began as a Chinese graveyard. Back in the day, thieves used the graveyard's tombs to hide from police when they were on the run. Today, Badran's association with all things criminal is still strong. "If you're from Badran, you're either a criminal, a gambler, an alcoholic, a waria (transgender woman), or just plain crazy," Wulan explains.
In a neighborhood of criminals, Gun Jack rose to the top. He was a "preman"—an Indonesian bastardization of the English phrase "free man" that is used as a catchall to describe the assorted thugs, street toughs, and gangsters that work in the margins of society, controlling much of the illegal and semi-legal economy of Indonesia. Gun Jack provided protection for the local gambling dens—collecting fees for powerful men, who operated behind the scenes.
In Yogya, Gun Jack was known for his kindness and open mind. After his father died, he adopted a 13-year-old boy from the neighboring city of Solo. Today, the boy, who goes by the name Mas Doni, is 36 years old and the only one of Gun Jack's children to follow in his footsteps.
"I had to go to the streets because of the circumstances," Mas Doni says. "But Babe (father in the Betawi dialect) didn't judge me for it. He never judged anyone. He wanted people to be themselves… that's why I gave my life to Babe, as a way to repay him for his kindness."
For Wulan, growing up with Badran's baddest gangster as a dad was interesting but often also frustrating. By the time she was born, Gun Jack had already served a short prison sentence for killing a man during a brawl at a local pool hall. He stayed out of prison after that, but he maintained his habit of flying off the handle when provoked.
"My father didn't follow rules, he created them," Wulan explains. "He once took me to Malioboro and he parked in a prohibited parking space. Naturally, the parking attendant scolded him so my father called his friends and they beat up the guy. I didn't like what I was seeing, so I got out of the car and walked home. My father followed me and kept apologizing. I was so angry. I told him I never wanted to go out with him again."
When she had a problem with a man who worked at the canteen near her school, her father arrived with a gang of men ready to "teach him a lesson." Another time, Gun Jack's gang crossed paths with some rivals. Wulan came home to find all the windows of her house had been busted out. "All of our glass windows were shattered. My father's bakso stall was bombed. It was a really traumatic event—and it made the papers too."
But there were also perks: Strangers would give Wulan presents on the street. Restaurant owners would refuse to accept money for her bill. Even the local police would often go out of their way to make sure she safely crossed the street. Every time her dad picked her up from school, all the neighborhood kids would shout "Gun Jack! Gun Jack!" when he arrived.
"Everybody knew my father," Wulan sighs.
Once Wulan reached adulthood, her father revealed yet another hidden side of his life: "My father thought that I was embarrassed of him. One day, he sat me down, and he pulled out a card that showed he was actually a BIN agent [Indonesia's intelligence agency]. He revealed that in reality he worked as a secret agent and that I should be proud of him. From that moment on, we grew closer and closer."
"I always wondered why he would go out of town so many times. He would tell me that he had to do work out of town, or even out of the country—like when there was violence in Poso in the 2000s and the Bali bombings in 2002. I guess that was why. He was working for our intelligence agency."
Wulan is now 22 and she still lives in Badran. Her life as a preman's daughter inspired an early interest in how the human mind works so she studied psychology at Universitas Gadjah Mada, and she is currently looking for employment.
Gun Jack died in 2011 of lymphoma. For Wulan, her town hasn't been the same since his death. A new breed of premen have taken hold of Yogya—gangs of young men who use intimidation and force to shut down events held by the city's sizable population of liberal artists and activists. It's a far cry from Gun Jack, a man who once tried to start a farm where transgender sex workers could find a way off the streets.
"It would be great for the media to cover more stories about him because he was a good role model," says Wulan. "Especially for the people living on the streets of Indonesia—they need an example. Life is chaotic, people just fight blindly over power and material possessions. They need a figure to look up to, to teach them how to live on the streets honorably, how to appreciate our own brothers and neighbors."
For Mas Doni, Gun Jack also remains an inspiration. To him, he was a man who donated rice to widows and helped build community mosques with his own hands: "He was very generous. He got along with everybody—prostitutes, pedicab drivers, street vendors, angkringan vendors, alcoholics… He took care of marginalized groups. When Babe was alive, Badran was respected around the country. That respect is gone now."