It would be easy to state that the majority of José’s life was spent in institutions. Growing up in a very dysfunctional household he became a ward of the court before age 13 and was in and out of institutions/homes until the age of 16. Growing up in a gang environment and immersed in the lifestyle since adolescence, it facilitated him to believe and adopt the culture by nurturing the character defects already established from his troubled upbringing.
He ran the streets perpetuating the criminal mentality and destructive behavior of a gang member and by the time he was 16 he had committed numerous crimes, which eventually led him to an adult maximum security prison with a life sentence.
As a 17 yr. old, he lived and understood that he would never be released and that his life was going to be dedicated to imprisonment, isolation and the gang. His disruptive behavior continued in prison where alongside learning basic male milestones such as how to shave, he was taught how to function in adult facilities. Learning the prison principles like how to manufacture weapons, comporting oneself around like minded peers and by participating in the chaos that is the California prison system, he epitomized the stigma given to someone who is raised by the state.
However, amidst all the negativity, he maintained a few positive behavioral traits from his childhood, those he used in an attempt to escape his reality by fleeing from his problems and responsibilities.
Reading, drawing, and his enjoyment of school continued to be his solace from the harsh conditions of prison and with them he was able to begin to set an objective foundation from where his work on introspection could begin.
Education is where Jose attributes his change emerged from. Despite the constant denial by CDCR of an extended education, (having a 12.9+ GPA excluded him from school programs) he was finally able to enroll into community college. Just a pilot program back then, he was able to earn units and with it, the education needed in order for his understanding of the self to proceed to the next level.
Scott Budnick would visit him back then and assisted in planting a seed of hope that one day would bear fruit. Alongside Elizabeth Calvin Chief Senior Advocate for the Children’s Rights at the Human Rights Watch and with the help of so many organizations and the great people around them, they initiated, created, and passed into being the youth offender law SB260. Jose qualified for this law and after a 7 ½ hour hearing where he was able to explain his past, present and outlook for a productive future he attained parole suitability after 20 years of imprisonment. With no family support ARC was able to assist him and with the help of transitional housing he eventually began to work towards self-sufficiency. Immediately after parole he became an intern at ARC, and within months he was working as an assistant for Elizabeth Calvin at The Human Rights Watch. He is a constant counselor for at-risk youth for The Harold Robinson Foundation’s Camp Ubuntu where he assists in helping kids be themselves and enjoy activities they would otherwise never experience. He is still employed by AEG at their Staples Center Arena at the guest services department, where he gets paid to work every concert, game, and event held there.
From time-to-time he also works as a production assistant in the entertainment industry.
He was accepted to the UC and the Cal State system and has opted to attend Cal State Los Angeles where he could continue to earn his degree (he is currently working towards his BA and double majoring in Psychology and Political Science).
He is happy to work for Scott and ARC full time and to have had the experience of working for Elizabeth Calvin at the Human Rights Watch where believes all of this has aided him in order to assist others in similar circumstances. It has barely been over a year since his release and he looks forward to what the next year can and will bring. His hopes is to one day be successful, to truly begin to enjoy life, and to pay it forward to the next person.