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Meet Adrian Vasquez of California Community Foundation

Today we’d like to introduce you to Adrian Vasquez.

Adrian, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I remember looking out of my cell window, mesmerized, seeing snowflakes fall for the first time in my life. I was captivated by their shapes and sizes. As a snowflake began to drift slowly towards me and struck my window, I realized for the first time what it meant, I was a 21-year-old sentenced to life in prison. As I was staring out of the cell window tears began to run down my face.

I reflected upon the journey of my life; I was fortunate enough to attend a Catholic school but could not escape the reality of violence living in South-Central Los Angeles. I managed to graduate from high school and enrolled at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) where I studied through my sophomore year. My goal was to complete a double major in Criminal Justice and Business Administration, and I was well on my way to achieving that goal. Just when it seemed like my life was in order, I made a decision that would change my world forever. At 19, I was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 16-years-to life in prison.

Prison was a traumatic experience that drastically altered the course of my life. For the first ten years of my prison sentence, I found myself struggling to find something that gave me hope and a sense of self-worth. I obtained a legal clerk job in the prison library where I discovered legal books and correspondence college courses. Law and education became my escape from the prison environment and a pathway to a new life. I began assisting other inmates with their legal cases in search of remedies. For example, my cellmate, Jesse was denied parole six times after having served 28 years of his life sentence on a second-degree murder conviction, and I offered to help him draft his appeal. It was granted and he paroled nine months later. Knowing that my problem-solving and writing abilities helped him reunite with his family gave me a sense of purpose. I wanted to strive forward to obtaining my release from prison and eventually become a lawyer to help marginalized community members obtain adequate legal representation.

I was released from prison on February 25, 2014. After serving 20-years of imprisonment, I was determined to re-enroll in CSULB to complete a chapter of my life, I left incomplete. This gave me a second chance to be something more than my criminal background – I became a student, not a parolee. It gave me purpose and direction in life. As a student at CSULB, it became important to me that other men and women leaving prison developed the courage and skills to pursue their own higher education dreams. Therefore, while completing my own education, and became a full-time staff member at The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), serving as ARC’s Job Developer. As ARC’s Job Developer, I assist men and women who are impacted by the criminal justice system in finding living-wage career opportunities. In September 2019, I applied to The California Community Foundation and was hired as their Program Associate for Youth Development in Education and Immigration where I help to coordinate funding for organizations that are serving positive youth development in Los Angeles County. At CSULB, I co-founded a student organization called Rising Scholars, a support network for formerly incarcerated students. The goal is to support these students to thrive, graduate, and pursue graduate school. I was recently accepted to a fellowship program called LEAP, Legal Education Access Pipeline, which diversifies the legal profession by preparing underrepresented students to become successful law school applicants, lawyers, and agents of social change.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Some of the struggles are being stigmatized for my past criminal background. It has hindered me in obtaining certain types of employment which involve licensing, housing, being judged, and dating. Fortunately, I have been able to surround myself with positive peers who helped me to transition back into society. 

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I work for The California Community Foundation, CCF, as their Program Associate in Youth Development in Education and Immigration. I am their first-person hired with lived experience (background). I was hired by CCF, knowing I have a background and they gave me a second chance. I am focusing on taking the LSATS to apply to law school. I strongly feel, giving back is important. When a second opportunity is given one must give in return.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
A characteristic which I believe helps in success is never giving up. I feel there is always a solution to every problem. Do not be afraid to fail. One must try at least try. Without trying one never knows the potential one has in life to push forward and do good.

Contact Info:

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Image Credit:

Danny Trejo Actor, Rising Scholars Long Beach State Student Org, Delta Sigma Chi Fraternity.

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