Prison Race - Luis Garcia

Uploaded by calpolypomona on 12.07.2011

Dr. Renford Reese:Hi. My name is Renford Reese. I am Professor in the Political Science
Department at Cal Poly Pomona and also the director of the Colorful Flags
Program. We are here today as a part of the Prison Race series to have a
discussion with Luis Garcia a young man who was once incarcerated but has gone
on the get his undergraduate degree in Theology from Loyola Marymount
University to get his Masters in social work degree from University of Southern
California and he is currently working towards his Doctorate in Higher
Education at Loyola Marymount. He has a very powerful and inspirational story I
want to talk to him today about his evolution about his transition and the
lessons learned along the way. Luis glad to have you with us.
Luis Garcia:Thank you for having me.Dr. Reese:
So tell me something about your background. Tell me something about your family
structure growing up. What was it like?
Luis:I lived in a pretty middle class neighborhood. I always liken it to kinda like
the Bad News Bears. I grew up in the 70's it was pretty nice family
environment. My father is a retired deputy probation officer. My mom worked and
had pretty stable family a lot grandparent influence and we went to good
schools. It was a good environment.Dr. Reese:
So your parents were together when you grew up?
Luis:Yes Dr. Reese:Ok so tell me about what area is it part of Los Angeles?
Luis:Yes. Unincorporated Witter area South East L.A. County and Montebello and Santa
Fe Springs.Dr. Reese:Ok so tell me about your hobbies? What were you interested in as a kid?
Luis:I liked art and I like drawing specifically I used to like to draw cars I used
to really kinda eventually in my head I wanted to do car designing at one time.
Dr. Reese:What type of student were you?
Luis:In elementary school I was in the MGM program. I was in those kind of
accelerated programs. In the fifth grade I won an essay that was recognized by
the city council and we got to ride in a parade and I enjoyed school.
Dr. Reese:I don't understand what went wrong how did the wheels come off? I am talking
about you had a strong family background. You are not talking about a family
structure or environment that was dysfunctional. You are talking about support
grandparents and supportive parents. You are talking about going to good
schools you are talking about excelling in school. So how did you wind up being
incarcerated? I mean people want to know. It doesn't fit the script. So tell me
what happened along the way that changed for you?
Luis:I hit high school? (laugh) And I thing high school with a lot of the looking
back was a lot of normal adolescent issues that were coming up that were
rising. That hindsight is always 20 -20. It just wasn't addressed and um a lot
of academic started taking a nose drive. I was going to a Catholic private high
school at the time and then a combination of peer pressure or wanting to fit in
with peers I ended up leaving the private school to go to public school. And
then the support of my parents I was fortunate I had them purchase a Vespa
scooter for me that I was hanging out with the Vespa kids and at sixteen I had
my Vespa and I was going to public school and I was starting to have interested
in women and girls and all that stuff was coming out. All the self-esteem
issues a combination of first girlfriend experience. It did not work to my
advantage it was basically that was the starting point in that high school era.
Dr. Reese:Ok so when you say the starting point what types of things were you doing? How
did you act up? How did this kinda manifest itself?
Luis:I moved from the scooter stage to scooter environment to the car stage and my
parents bought me a car. That started off a chain of events with hanging out
with friends that were partying and basically the partying accelerated to me
getting tickets for suspended license tickets and for driving under the
influence of alcohol tickets. So it just basically just graduated to that
within a matter of a couple years by the time I was eighteen.
Dr. Reese:So you had more than one D.U.I.?
Luis:Yeah. I had by the time I was twenty-one I had three and I had numerous
suspended license tickets.Dr. Reese:Ok. So what happened as a consequence of you having three D.U.
I's?Luis:Well the consequence of having the suspended license came first. The D.U.I.
came first it started off with some overnights in jail and graduated to I think
it was the third one I had it was 210 day sentence at the L.A. county jail.
Dr. Reese:After the first one and the second one is it anything going on in your head
saying hey have to change my life? I have been in jail I have served this time
these days in jail I'm not on the right path. Did it occur to you?
Luis:Yeah. It is obviously there was this, that you are not doing the right thing
but the right thing you are kind of sucked up with friends and the environment
and what you are doing and you are trying to rationalize and say it's ok I will
get out of it you know I will fix things up and it just becomes this self
perpetuated negative cycle that I guess the only intervention was becoming
getting incarcerated.Dr. Reese:So tell us about the first offence that landed you in prison?
Luis:I was involving alcohol and I got into an altercation and basically I just took
a plea deal two three years for assault with a deadly weapon. That was my
first experience and I was sentenced to three years in state prison that was in
1991.Dr. Reese:So what was it like? You were going to this type of stable household
environment to prison. What was it like where did you go to reception first?
Luis:I went to Tehachapi at the time for reception and it was a very traumatic
experience. Very simply it was like I was in the county jail. I also have a
first cousin who is a sheriff's deputy so at the time I took advantage of
having a relationship of having a relative that is in law enforcement and my
father. So I went to a special area where they handled relatives of law
enforcement. So in the county jail that worked in the county jail but when you
go to state prison they ask you do you want to stay as they considered to have
protected custody. I was like no. So basically you are dropped into the C.D.C's
ways of doing things. So it was a wake up.
Dr. Reese:So where did you go from reception? What prison did you go to?
Luis:I went to across the facility into the two yard at Tehachapi?
Dr. Reese:Ok. Tell me what was it like to the two yard? Who did you identify with? We
know that the prisons in California are segregated based on the ethnic
background and gang affiliation. You're Latino so you had to either go with
Nuestro Familia northern structure or Cerritos the southerners all the Mexican
gangs south of Fresno or you can stay non-affiliate. Who did you decide to
basically side with?Luis:When you come into reception at Tehachapi I can vividly remember the
officer asking you what are you what do you consider yourself in and as far as I
remember it was southern Mexican, White, Black or other and basically since I
was Chicano basicallyI considered myself southern Mexican.
Dr. Reese:They gave you a choice of northern Mexican?
Luis:I can't recall that but I am sure probably was there.
Dr. Reese:My question is how did you navigate this knowing that you were not really
affiliate with that population on the outside. You were not in a gang you are
not a hardcore gang member you are not a part of the border nationalist gangs.
So did you navigate your identity?Luis:
Basically by heating some advise of some guy that I got from conversations that
I had when I was in county jail. About from people who had been to state
prisons before and basically saying just be yourself. And then when I got into
the environment talking and interacting with my cell mate who was a Southsider
and he had done some time before and pretty much had talked he kinda like, it
was never like out right - you are not from any neighborhood so you are not one
of us. It was more like as long as you are identifying with that then it is
fine it is OK.Dr. Reese:Ok you told me earlier that you helped the other inmates with their work
with anything they needed dealing with education.
Luis:Yeah, A lot of guys their writing skills or their spelling was usually they
knew they couldn't spell or they had problems with it so a lot of times I am
just there and I was like they would ask me and I would say sure here. So they
have in C.D.C.'s environment they have these 602 forms or appeal forms that an
inmate can write. So a lot of times you know I would basically help them write
it or if they are their writing it help them put this word instead of this
word. And they would write it out and then submit it of to it.
Dr. Reese:So do you think that help protect you in prison?
Luis:Yes. It was what I was getting known for, oh he's got the smarts he is able to
contribute.Dr. Reese:Right. So in some ways the fact that you were able to contribute in this way
protected you from lets say in any violence or any kind of assaults.
Luis:Yes Dr. Reese:Ok so then tell me you stayed in for three years and now you get out. What
happens when you get out? What is your mindset like and when do you start to
change? Do you change in prison or do you change when you get out of prison?
Luis:It is always been something I always look back on and when did the change
happen and when coming back to those initial experiences in high school and the
age before the age of twenty-one issues. Those became the issues that
intersected with the criminal justice system so when I got out this time in
1993 it was like I always knew who I was but now I have these compounded I was
on parole and an ex-felon and I was a high school drop out. I always saw myself
from the outside looking in but I wanted to achieve these different goals. So I
would make an effort to achieve these goals and I had aligned with a job when I
got out. I started community college again and it basically came to a cross
roads again in 1995 and that's where I ultimately got incarcerated a second
time.Dr. Reese:Ok so tell me about the second turn the second stint what did you go in for
your second time?Luis:The second turn I was again involved with alcohol and I was convicted of
second-degree commercial burglary I believe it is called if I can remember
correctly.Dr. Reese:Ok then where did you go?
Luis:I went to Wasco reception and I went to Susanville and I was trained. I went to
fire camp training and ended up going to fire camp and from fire camp I went to
Long Beach.Dr. Reese:Ok so at any time during this period did you seek to get substance abuse help?
Obviously you were having a problem with alcohol so did you ever go to any type
of alcoholic anonymous group meetings?Luis:
When I was in Tehachapi that was my first term Yes and then in the second term
no. And basically I was just navigating it on my own at the time.
Dr. Reese:Right. How long did you spend in your second term?
Luis:The second term was about sixteen months.
Dr. Reese:When did you really start to transition into become the person that you are
today?Luis:That happened on my third violation when I ended up in Chino Central.
Dr. Reese:That is not a place you really want to be. I have been to observe Chino Central.
Luis:Yeah I was out less than a little more than ninety days. Again the acting out
and the combination with the alcohol really just basically had my parents very
concerned and my father concerned and basically what it occurred from there was
that they informed my parole agent and my parole agent came to my parents house
and arrested me and took me into custody and took me to the county jail and
from there I ended up in Central. So it is kinda like a matter of two weeks
here I am in Chino Central going through the reception process there and part
of that reception process they have you talk to a clinical physiologist. It was
right there with her I basically asked for help from within the corrections
environment. Which I knew I didn't want to do because of the way their
clarification process is. So I knew I would have to go into a new
classification system and I didn't really want to do that but I really just
told myself here I was again so I might as well just do it.
Dr. Reese:Ok. So did you get help in Chino?
Luis:Yes I was fortunate I think because what occurred was that I was transferred
over to the men's one yard. Basically that physiologist was where her base was
on the one yard. So through other circumstances after the third term you are
considered in prison legal I guess they call it a regular. I only had three
times and three times is enough.PR.This was before the three strikes law right?
Luis:No this was actually after. This was after, this was in 1997.
Dr. Reese:So do you have any strikes on you?
Luis:Yes I believe I have one.Dr. Reese:
Ok. So we have talked about the dark side I want to talk about the brighter
side. Now when did you start to transition? You asked for help you received
help you came out and when did you enroll in Loyola Marymount? You told me the
story about the person at Harvard who was admitted to Harvard they found out
the person committed murder. The president said no we can't we have to deny
your application. But the president at Loyola Marymount to your amazement to
your surprise said look we would have to really contemplate this and we would
not just deny this person automatically. So tell me about the impact that this
had in you?Luis:When I was in Chino a lot of the discussions would go with the psychologist but
then also the Catholic Chaplin there who was actually completing his PhD in
clinical psychology so I would go speak to him and I began questioning my own
faith in Catholicism and carried that out into parole and what I did was. It
was funny because I look back on it and I went from reading Buckley in the
National Review to being introduced to Jesuit spiritually and connecting with
the Loyal Institute of Spirituality in Orange and then receiving some
literature and then I read the literature and that was kinda set the process to
engaging and discussions with academic discussion with my community college
counselor. And on his suggestion was have you thought about Loyola Marymount?
And he didn't about all the background searching that I was doing. I remember
specifically telling him you gotta to be smart to go to that school and he went
on line and looked that they had their yearly welcome what ever you call it the
college days when they have a thing when you invite people to come and look at
the University and I attended it. And that very same president I heard him
speaking about how life is and all along the way you have all these difference
experiences that is all part of the life's learning process. And right then and
there I knew that was the school I wanted to come to.
Dr. Reese:So how did you feel when you were accepted?
Luis:Pretty surreal you know because the letter came I remember it was like a
Saturday the letter came in mid April I think it was. The mail came in a big
envelope just like that it is kinda like the heart feeling like you are sinking
when you get sentenced to a heart feeling of getting sinked of oh I got
accepted to University. So it was like I just reflected back on those passed
experience but this was a good experience and it was pretty surreal but it was
real.Dr. Reese:So tell me about how long you majored in theology and minored in psychology. So
what was it like sitting in classroom you're not a regular as an inmate now you
are a student and it had to be pretty liberating. How did it feel in the
classroom?Luis:I was a process. I was originally was a psychology major and I transferred and
basically and I was struggling to some degree and I remember meeting with one
of the Deans and he had kinda said we accepted you in the University what's
going on kinda thing, you have the capabilities. I realized I didn't like
psychology and what I did like was Theology. And I like to be able to write and
express my views and engage in those discussions and so I switched. I switched
majors.Dr. Reese:When did you enroll in U.S.C.'s masters program in social work?
Luis:I enrolled in the fall of 2001 actually I started. I went in my spring semester
my senior year at Loyal. After having some conversations with some faculty
members there one suggested MSW program and I really had no idea what MSW. I
actually didn't really like MSW's because I had some experiences with the
social workers in the prison unit system. And so I started reading the
literature what MSW does and it sounds like I can align myself with it so I
applied and did the application process and was accepted in the fall of 2001
Dr. Reese:This is quite a transition. You went from being in prison to what some would
probably call as being incorrigible to getting a degree from Loyola Marymount
to going to U.S.C. a pretty prestigious University. Loyola Marymount
is also but going on a campus at U.S.C. how did it feel when you first stepped
first on the campus. I got my Doctorate from U.S.C. and I just know how just
know how it is a pretty spectacular learning environment.
Luis:I had already went through the Loyola Marymount experience which was in
comparison it was a smaller University so was at U.S.C. I was like amazed I
mean enjoyed it. It was like they had, it was a lot of things that I was going
to connect into the University and it was pretty again it was in a sense
surreal wow I am here. And it's kind of like as I think back on it. I think now
that there has been some time you look back and you start. I think there is
like this I am set but you really don't feel like it until after you are done.
And I guess I kinda settles in and now it's wow it's like.
Dr. Reese:So you have your thing going on here which is amazing. I want to get your
family's reaction to this type of transformation that is happening. What do
your parents think what do your relatives think what do your friends think
about what is going on with Luis Garcia this time.
Luis:Well you know I think the family was they have always been supported in all
manners. When I graduated from Loyola my whole family showed up to the
graduation. When I graduated from U.S.C. I had two close friends with me that
attended and then some of my family members were there. One of my aunts said it
is just amazing. I guess like sometimes it is amazing it is just something I
feel I have always wanted to do and it is finally I did what I needed to do and
I did it right and it kinda fell into place.
Dr. Reese:So you're currently pursuing a Doctorate in Higher Education from Loyola
Marymount?Luis:Yes it is a A.D.D. program educational leadership for social justice is the
title and I am in my second year now. I applied during my finial year of my MSW
studies and then I was accepted and I started last fall.
Dr. Reese:Ok tell me about your personal statement do you remember it?
Luis:It was pretty much a little overview of all my various different experiences
and my personal experiences and I did include my specific my research interest
now is the experiences of paroles who are now in community college or in an
education environment. That is what I basically had writing was my research
interests and from there it was a short I had to put more of a background in my
MSW application in that personal statement that one was much more concise.
Dr. Reese:You seem like an ideal candidate an expert to really be giving a consultation
to the governor of California on how we can reform this broken corrections
system with each dollar it is seemly getting increasingly worse. We're
teetering on a nine billion dollar corrections budget for the state of
California. We are laying off teachers we have built more prisons than we have
schools Universities. We pay for the average inmate about fifty thousand
dollars per year. That probably about ten times the amount that we pay for a K
through twelve students. How do you see the state of California at least
reforming the system and what are the strategies that you envision?
Luis:I don't expect much actually not really to sound cynical. Yesterday I was
reviewing one of my books that I have and it was written by the sociologist
John Erwin it is called The Felon and it was on the original copies it was an
old copy that I got somewhere down the line and I was reading some of the stuff
that was occurring back then and to what is now and in my own community
experiences working with and following the policies. I think a lot of the big
policies and stuff like that are gonna, there needs to be some total it guess
overhaul I guess is what I am saying when I am seeing that eventually it
trickles down to the parole office and how the parole, which there is a lot of
great parole agents and then the whole culture of the whole department and how
that rehabilitation now is in their name and how does that work its way out
into the parole office and keep giving the parole agents the tools that they
need to actually carry out a rehabilitate focus instead of basically compliance.
Dr. Reese:Ok. So tell me about your vision what do you see yourself doing in about three
to five years?Luis:I think I see myself as somewhere being able to contribute with a lot of my
experiences and my professional experiences and now with these academic degrees
contribute to policy to educating perhaps the offender or you know basically
just being able to be a service I want to say for the individual that may
decide to follow the path that is available to them as a citizen when they come
back into the community.Dr. Reese:Ok. Luis I want to thank you for coming in as I stated in the
introduction you have a powerful story very inspirational very dynamic story and I am glad to
have met you and consider you a friend now and consider you a person that I
will be working with to try to reform the system. Thank you for coming in.
Luis:Thank you