Unlike other 7 year olds who might be joining Cub Scouts or Brownies, or learning to ride a bike or skateboard, I joined a gang – not necessarily by choice, but definitely by location. I lived in Oceanside with my mom and dad, two sisters and two brothers. And across the street lived the leader of the Deep Valley Crips. I was always around the gang life; I was embedded in it. I soon became known as the leader of the Deep Valley Kids, an extension of the gang, because you cannot officially join until you are 16.
When I was 11, I stole a BB gun and shot the school janitor and was expelled from school. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a wake-up call for me. Instead, it was the beginning of a lifelong criminal journey. In the 7th grade, I jumped a guy at a bus station and in 8th grade, I shot at a rival gang member and caught a 30-day stint at a local correctional camp. A joyride in a Camaro got me kicked out of the state and I spent a year and a half at Glen Mills, a residential education facility for juvenile delinquents in Pennsylvania.
Although my parents provided a good life, they were strict – now I know why. But at that time, I wanted a sense of freedom; being in a gang offered me that freedom. My “freedom,” however, came at a price. In August 30, 1994, I was shot by a rival gang member. I recovered and in December of that same year, I shot someone. I was 16.
I spent the next 24 years in various prisons, including the infamous Pelican Bay. I spent seven long years in solitary confinement 22 ½ hours each day. After close to a quarter century in confinement, I was paroled in March 2018 and released in July.
I remember when I realized what I had done and the potential ripple effect my actions had. I was in a Victim Sensitivity Awareness group. Something clicked within me and I realized my crime, all my crimes, were also crimes against the community – maybe kids weren’t allowed to play in an area any more because their parents were scared it wasn’t safe; maybe people stopped shopping the businesses in the area. Suddenly, I had feelings attached to my actions. I wrote my shooting victim a few letters – I wanted him to know I was remorseful for what I did and I was taking steps in prison to better myself so that if I ever got out, I would be a positive force.
And I have been. I came to Second Chance, skeptical of the process but it wasn’t long before something awoke inside me. This was the new beginning I was hoping for - the stepping stone to a crime-free future. With Second Chance’s help, I landed a good job installing insulators at a local shipyard. Makes me feel good to be working… and to give back. The work ethic I came away with after graduating Second Chance keeps me working hard with a positive attitude!
Each week I volunteer at The Salvation Army, helping young people find a better path. I can’t get those 25 years in prison back but I can share my journey and maybe keep a kid from winding up like me. I strive to be understanding of others and for growth and development. I finally have the freedom I always yearned. I’m very simple. I’m very determined and set out to achieve my goals with humbleness, patience and understanding.
My past is far behind me. My future is close, clear and bright. I understand, now, what freedom really means. I want to help people understand that there may be one destination but many paths to get there and we mustn’t judge what path they take, as long as they get there.
There’s no better gift than a second chance. I’ve been granted a second chance and I work hard to make sure I don’t spoil it. At Second Chance, opportunities abound for those willing to put forth the effort. I hope you will consider helping Second Chance end the cycles of incarceration and poverty by making your tax-deductible gift today. Happy Holidays!
With humility and appreciation,