By Tiffany Johnson, Parole Administrator III,
and Luis Patino, CDCR Public Information Officer II
Like many kids on the fringes of the opulence, perfect smiles, and sun-baked glow depicted on magazines about L.A., Salvador Sanchez longed to just belong.
“My mom died of cancer when I was 12 years old. My dad just didn’t know how to deal with me. He didn’t want to be around. He had another family,” Sanchez said with brutal honesty.
By the time he was 17, he was an angry young man, trying to find a niche for himself on the desperate avenues of Compton. All he had was his youth. He thought street cred, acceptance, and respect from his fellow gang brethren were all he could dare to achieve.
“I was lost in the gang lifestyle. I wanted to make a name for myself. I thought I had to prove myself to earn my stripes,” he remembered.
Sanchez and some friends were stopped by police and found with a shotgun. He was charged with possession of a firearm and sent to a juvenile detention center for about a year.
But just a week after Sanchez was released, things took a turn for the worse. He found himself on the brink of a downward spiral that threatened to put him away for much longer.
The gang-related shotgun that had landed him in a juvenile detention center was traced to a far more serious crime. “Another gang member went into someone’s house with a double-barrel sawed-off shot gun, held them at gunpoint and ransacked the house,” Sanchez recalled.
Sanchez faced charges of false imprisonment, home invasion, carjacking, first-degree burglary and possession of a controlled substance. The charges and the potential penalties they carried stunned him and his siblings when they were announced in the courtroom. “They told me 15-to-life in prison… it hit me. When I turned around to see my family, I saw them crying and it broke my heart. It hit home with me and I realized I needed to stop this behavior,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez served about six-and-a-half more years – this time in prison. He decided to take responsibility for his actions and start to change for the better.
A fellow inmate told Sanchez about Healthright 360, a transitional drug-treatment program that’s part of the Men’s Community Reentry Program in Los Angeles. The program consists of vocational studies, self-help programs, transitional assistance, job placement and more. Sanchez signed up and was granted an endorsement to participate about six months before his parole date. He was placed on a GPS ankle monitor and released to get a head start on his programs.
Within two short months of entering the program, Sanchez began earning true respect. He acquired his California ID, Social Security Card, Medi-Cal, and a construction job. “I figured it was the best move I could have ever done. I made the right decision. It helped me become a better man,” said Sanchez.
On March 12, his scheduled parole date, the monitor came off. He is currently preparing to take an exam for a fork-lift operator’s license. He also serves as an intern with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC). “Right now, I get to give back to the program. I’m helping teach other parolees how to take off the label of ‘inmate’ and helping them start a legit life.”
Next, he is planning to become an apprentice industrial line-man electrician for the Southern California Construction Union full-time through the ARC program.
He is also back home with his family. “They’re happy to have me at home,” he said almost in disbelief. “I’m living with my older brother and sister. They are a major source of support for me right now. I am thankful for the opportunity they’re giving me to turn my life around.” He hopes his actions will send a heartfelt message, “thank you for caring.”
And with a lump in his throat, Sanchez said he also wishes his actions could relay his feelings to his late mother. “I would tell her, ‘Mom, I’m becoming the man you raised me to be.'”
Finally, it seems that Southern California sun is glowing on Salvador Sanchez too.