I am the Policy Coordinator for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition in Los Angeles.
by Kent Mendoza #LwC2018
May 17, 2018
“I am the Policy Coordinator for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) in Los Angeles.”
We provide hundreds of formerly incarcerated people with mentorship, mental health services, supportive housing, access to jobs and education. We also give our members opportunities to advocate for criminal justice reform. As Policy Coordinator, I conduct trainings for our members to prepare them for lobby visits in Sacramento. I coach them on how to tell their stories effectively and relate their stories to the particular bill we’re supporting. Right now we’re working on six different bills and one ballot measure. One is a bail reform actwhich will eliminate cash bail. The ballot initiative is the Voting Restoration and Democracy Act, which will re-enfranchise about 162,000 Californians who are either in prison or out on parole. Even though it seems like we’re doing a lot, there’s still way more to do.On April 3rd I took a bunch of ARC members to Sacramento to advocate for S.B. 1391 which will end the transferring of 14 and 15 year olds to adult court. Each of them had been sentenced in adult court at that age and used their own experiences to explain why it’s not right to send such young people through the adult system because the chances of recidivism are higher than if they were put through the juvenile system where the level of violence isn’t as deep. We were all at the Senate Public Safety Committee hearing where the bill passed 5 to 1. It was a great experience!I came to this country from Mexico when I was six years old and grew up in the low income immigrant community of Pico Union District. I didn’t have a father figure, became involved with a gang, and had my first brush with the law when I was 13. I served time in a probation camp, but as soon as I came out I was arrested again and spent 7 months in jail awaiting trial in adult court. I was facing 25 years to life, but that’s when my life changed. A man named Scott Budnick, who was a movie producer and the founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition began to visit me in jail, and he made me feel like everything was going to be okay. I would ask myself, “Is this what a father-son relationship feels like?” I liked having someone out of nowhere care for me and see potential in me that I didn’t see myself. I started educating myself. I always loved to read nonfiction books about great leaders like Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Pancho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata and I realized that each of them had been incarcerated at some point in their life. I knew I wanted to be a leader too, but I didn’t know how. In the end, I was sent back to juvenile court and I accepted a deal of seven years. I was paroled after five years, and the day I came out the first person I saw was my boss Scott Budnick, and behind him was my mother and my nephew. Ever since that day I’ve been working to prove to myself and the world that this Mexican, who went through all this, can make it. Today my goal is to be an effective leader, spokesperson, and a subject matter expert. Through the Leading with Conviction training I’m learning that it’s my time to step it up more. I have to start thinking critically about policy solutions with the help of my experience and JLUSA is helping me. I feel honored to be part of this fellowship.