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Julia and Lupita holding their photos of themselves on a pony
Best friends Lupita Guerrero, left, and Julia Lopez were six years old when they had their pictures taken on a pony standing outside Julia’s house in Alice. After 30 years of separation, the two women reunited unexpectedly in 1992 when they both went to work at the McConnell Unit in Beeville.
Photo by David Nunnelee

A story of fate

TDCJ jobs bring best friends together after 30 years apart

Theirs is a sunny story. It begins with two little girls dressed in western wear sitting on a pony and ends happily nearly 60 years later with them retiring from TDCJ together. It’s a story about friendship and how it endures even after years of separation. Mostly, though, it’s a story about fate.

Julia Lopez and Lupita Guerrero believe it was fate that brought them both to the McConnell Unit in Beeville in 1992. Julia was a correctional officer assigned to the law library and Lupita was a clerk in the unit mailroom. Thirty years had passed since the two women, who grew up across the street from each other in Alice, last saw each other. And neither knew the other was working at the prison. Then one day shortly after they had started their jobs, Lupita spotted a woman who resembled her childhood friend eating lunch in the dining hall. Although appearances can change over time, she approached Julia, and using her maiden name, asked her if, in fact, she was that person.

“I said, ‘Yes, who are you?’” Julia said about their chance reunion with a laugh. “I didn’t recognize her at all. Then when she told me who she was, oh, I was so happy to see her again.”

Julia and Lupita lost contact after Julia wed her husband of 45 years in 1961. Lupita married a year later and, in just three days, moved with her husband of 43 years to Arizona, where he worked as a department store manager. In the years that followed, Julia worked for judicial and law enforcement officials in Nueces County and later opened a drive-in grocery with her husband in Agua Dulce, where he served as mayor. The couple sold the business in 1979 and moved to San Patricio, where they would one day lose their home and possessions in a flood. Lupita, meanwhile, spent several years in Arizona and another seven years in Lubbock before her husband was transferred to Beeville. She enrolled in Bee County College and earned an associate of arts degree. At the same time, Julia was attending that college’s branch campus in Alice, where she, too, earned an associate’s degree.

“So even though we were going to the same college at the same time, we never did see each other because we were in different towns,” Julia said.

Neither woman dreamed that they would finally reunite inside a prison.

“Fate just brought us back together,” Julia said. “We wanted to catch up in an instant on everything that had transpired in our lives. How many kids do you have? Things like that.”

It turns out the two women each had three children – two girls and a boy for Lupita, and three boys for Julia. They also discovered that they had married men from the same town.

“Both of our husbands are from Orange Grove, and they’re friends, too,” Lupita said.

“Isn’t that something?” Julia added.

Although they had their own families, Julia and Lupita didn’t completely forget about each other during their 30-year separation.

“Whenever I saw her sisters, I would ask them about her,” Julia said.

“When I would go back to Alice on vacation, I would see her parents and ask them about her,” Lupita added.
Neither woman learned much about the other until that fateful day at McConnell. Lupita transferred to the Garza East Unit in 1994 and was promoted to mailroom supervisor there two years later. Julia went to Garza East in 2000 as supervisor of the law library. After nearly 15 years of service, the two women retired from TDCJ just a week apart in June.

In looking back, Julia and Lupita say they had a contented childhood. Julia, one of 15 children – 14 girls and a boy – moved across the street from Lupita’s house in Alice when she was two. The two became best friends, spending their youth playing games like kick-the-can in the street, telling ghost stories on the front steps, and splashing in mud puddles.

“We had a very happy life,” Julia said. “We were very poor, but very happy.”

“We were in a little neighborhood and we all bonded together like brothers and sisters,” Lupita said.

Then, as now, Julia was the more extroverted of the two girls. She loved to sing and would sometimes perform with her father at local fiestas. Comparatively, Lupita was a shy girl.

“We had other friends, but we were the closest,” Julia said. “She was real meek and I would take care of her.”

Once in 1947, when both girls were six, a photographer came to Alice offering to outfit the neighborhood children in costumes, and for 50 cents, snap their pictures sitting on a black and white pony he led. Julia and Lupita still have the pictures of them dressed up as cowgirls atop the pony that is standing next to Julia’s house. It is the only picture from those days that Julia was able to save from the floodwaters that destroyed her home in San Patricio.

“That was the only time I was skinny,” Julia said, laughing at the girl in the picture. “I think it must have been taken on the same day as Lupita’s because it’s the same house, and it’s my house.”

Although Julia moved two blocks away from Lupita in the sixth grade, the girls continued as classmates through high school.

These days, Julia and Lupita get together for lunch, go shopping, and celebrate each other’s wedding anniversary with their husbands. And in retirement, they have one other activity they plan to do together.

“We’re going to get together and go gambling now,” Julia said.

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