The Gangsta, the Prisoner, and the Immigrant

Alberto Lule
Photos by Pedro Nieves
On the first day of this course, Survey of Critical Thought, I was not too sure what the course was about. We were instructed to do readings and then talk about the readings . . . that's it. It seemed easy enough until I saw  several readings that were so dense it was hard to stay awake after the first 50 pages! Then there were  several readings that really spoke to me on a very personal level. One of these writings was “Reflections on Exile,” by Edward Said. Each passage took me down avenues of memory that are filled with experiences of me as an outsider looking in.
Always the outsider.
As I read the Said essay it was as if this man was explaining my life to me. So many passages make so much sense and authenticized so many points in my life which I believe to be absolute truths.
In this paper I will be trying to point out things of my own humanity, and use Edward Said's, “Reflections on Exile,” to help me reach these truths.
I am a forty-one year old undergraduate, art major at UCLA. My life in higher learning began late into my thirties. When I was 36 years old I paroled from a California prison after serving a sentence of 14 years. It was while incarcerated that I realized I was an artist. Spending countless hours locked in a box forces an individual to make use of the time to  not go crazy, which is how some prisoners end up.  I believe that if you are able to deal with the stresses of the confinement in a positive way, an individual could walk away from all those years with a positive attitude and maybe even knowledge and wisdom gained from the experience. About 4 years into my sentence I began to look for ways that would take me out of the prison space on a mental level. I noticed that a lot of inmates would exercise on the yard so I began doing that, and it does help. But what really took me out of the prison space was drawing. It was art that made the prison walls disappear, even if only for the hours I would work. It was this habit of simple pencil drawing that led to art books, and then a passion for art in general. This passion led to other forms of knowledge such as philosophy, and eventually college correspondence courses. I began to realize that  my way out of  the prison I was physically in, but also the mental prison I had placed myself in before prison, could only be overcome if I started inward, deep in my soul.
My entire artistic practice is based on 3 identities I discovered about myself while incarcerated:  the child of illegal immigrants, the gang member, and the prisoner. But out of these three identities, I chose to create a new identity while incarcerated: the student.
What I have found myself looking for in our age of the politics of ethnic identity and passionate conviction are alternative communities that have emerged with a great deal of their memory and private subjectivity still preserved. 

—Edward Said
My parents immigrated to America in 1977. They crossed the Tijuana border illegally. My father has told me that there wasn't much of a border in those days. People would cross over into San Ysidro walking on the beach. The ebb and flow of allowable immigration had shifted to the immigrant's favor in those days. A year later I was born in Santa Barbara. An anchor baby is what they call kids like me. Having an American child allowed illegal immigrants in those days to stay in America as “Resident Aliens.” My first language was Spanish, but I picked up the majority language very quickly in Kindergarten. It was in Kindergarten that I experienced the first situation of many where I was made to realize that I was not the same as the majority. One of the first things I learned to say in English was “wetback.” I couldn't have been more than 4 or 5 years old, but even that young I was already aware I was being laughed at and looked at as somehow inferior. Back in those days that derogatory slur was meant for Mexican people, and in time, any other brown skinned people south of the U.S. border. I believe that this slur has survived because of the cultural strength of the people it tries to belittle. In the passage above, Said speaks of “alternative communities” with “a great deal of their memory . . . still preserved.” Los Angeles is a good example for this passage. Think about East L.A., Chinatown, Little Armenia, K town, and many more communities of people who have held onto their cultural heritage and have preserved these identities in an ever changing American society. The artwork that accompanies the Said quote includes my mother's and her brother´s greencards from 1984. The i.d.’s, which may be fake, have been nailed onto a piece of used plywood I found among my father’s junk pile he keeps at his house. As a kid, I would look at these greencards a lot. A slang term that Mexicans use for fake greencards is “mica”. People who come to this country illegally usually end up buying micas in order to work and provide some type of identification. The obvious majority opinion on micas would be that laws are being broken, that illegals are criminals, that they are taking advantage of American ideals. Yet, we see them picking fruits in fields, washing dishes at restaurants, cleaning hotel rooms, even babysitting rich people’s children; all legitimate jobs that must be obtained by presenting identification, identification that is usually bought at places like MacArthur Park in downtown Los Angeles. It’s so easy for employers to play dumb like they did not know that the mica provided doesn’t match the social security number provided, or that the mica provided looks nothing like a legitimate U.S. Customs and Immigration identification card or workers visa.
The questions I am investigating in the art piece (Fig. 2): What is the minority opinion on micas? Am I really the son of criminals? Is the legitimacy of my American citizenship at question because the people who gave birth to me entered this country illegally? I always saw my parents as heroes. If they were somehow taking advantage of America’s good graces, I never saw it. We lived in a shitty 2 bedroom apartment, five of us including my three sisters. Back then you could not apply for food stamps or government assistance with mediocre micas. My parents were so Mexican the other Chicano kids at my school would make fun of us; as if these kids, that were just as brown as me, were somehow better than me, because the only English my father could say was  “no speak english.”
I got into a lot of fights as a kid because of this identity. So much so that it became easy for me to walk up to a kid and punch them in the face for any stupid remarks. Although I felt I was defending my identity, at the same time I started to develop an animosity toward my parents because of this difference between their Mexicaness and my Chicanoness. It was here that I started developing another identity in my life. As I grew up in my neighborhood I started meeting other kids with similar backgrounds. Kids who were getting into fights, getting in trouble, some of them were even doing drugs. My parents were hard working people who didn't get home until late in the evening, which left me and my sisters with a lot of time without them. I spent a lot of this time with this new family of street kids in the neighborhood, which led to getting in trouble with the law. I was around 12 years old when police came looking for me for the first time. Although I actually did not do what they were accusing me of, I had developed a reputation in the neighborhood that allowed the police to zero in on me. They accused me of breaking into a neighbor's house and stealing things. They said they had the right to come into our home and look for these things. I remember that was the first time I had ever seen a cop dusting for fingerprints. These cops dusted our apartment for fingerprints so that they can match them to fingerprints they took from the home of the stolen property. They left the biggest mess of fingerprint powder! And that shit is hard to clean up! After this incident I developed a very bad view of police. Looking back at it, they had no right to come into our home, they had no right to conduct a crime scene investigation because they found no stolen property there. They took advantage of their power then because they knew a family of “wetbacks” wasn't going to say anything about it.
Getting “jumped” into a gang is actually a common thing in Mexican-American communities in California. Pretty much any Mexican or Mexican-American person you meet has a family member or good friend connected to some gang. For me it started early in life. As much as I love my father and what he does, I had convinced myself at the time that I would never be like him and never break my back the way he did for minimum wage or less. This does not mean that I didn’t do those laborious jobs that my dad knew so well. I was taught to paint houses, trim hedges, lay spanish tile, and clean office spaces. “So much work for so little money,” I would always cry out, but on the side I was robbing, cheating, and stealing. I had become so caught up in making fast money with my gang that there was a moment in my teenage years that I thought my parents were idiots; being taken advantage of by a system that hates them. I had it all figured out then: I would get rich selling drugs and show my father that we didn't need to mow some white motherfucker’s lawn for $7 an hour. I had convinced myself that this corrupt reality I was born brown into owed me for all the messed up things that would happen to good people like my parents who worked hard and obeyed only to be ridiculed and tormented with hard labor. I couldn't see past the large amounts of money I would get from stealing cars, selling drugs, and robbing people, all crimes I was convicted of before turning eighteen years of age. It turned out that I was the biggest idiot. When I was 22 years old I was implicated in a crime in which a man was killed. Although I didn't do it, and eventually was exonerated of that charge, plenty of other charges I was guilty of landed me a 15 year prison sentence. I had added yet another mask to my roles in the theater of my life.
Necessarily then, I speak of exile not as a privilege, but as an alternative to the mass institutions that dominate modern life. Exile is not, after all, a matter of choice: You are born into it, or it happens to you. But, provided that the exile refuses to sit on the sidelines nursing a wound, there are things to be learned: he or she must cultivate scrupulous (not indulgent or sulky) subjectivity.
—Edward Said
This passage by Said reminded me of this artwork I did (Fig. 4) where I compared my prison identification card with my father’s immigration card. I wonder if being exiled is truly not a matter of choice in one's life. It is true that I had no choice to be born into this body, but the choices I made to be sent to prison were entirely my own, although I can say honestly that at the time I was truly convinced that I would never be caught and sent to prison. The part of the passage that says “you are born into it or it happens to you,” is something that rings so true to my life. Nobody wants to go to prison. A lot of times I would see inmates at the county jail get on that transportation bus they call the “grey goose,” literally kicking and screaming. One way or another your ass is getting on that bus. It happens to you. You are transported against your will to a place nobody wants to go. It is almost as if you get transported to a parallel universe that exists on the outskirts of what we call reality. When you step off of that bus after being driven through 3 different gates, one of which is charged with an electric current 24 hours a day, you definitely feel you are not in Kansas anymore. You will meet your first prison guard who will ask you: ¨who do you run with?” a simple question that is meant to divide the prison race populations. Already knowing of this, my answer was quick and confident: “Southern Mexican.” Since the 1960s, Southern California chicano gang members have been at war with Northern California chicano gang members, yet another division perpetuated by the California prison system. One of the most important things about prison that you learn in the county jail is that you do not want to end up in a situation where you get placed with the wrong population. These systems of segregation start in county jail. Once you are placed in a holding space with “your people,” you are given the first object by your new “owner.” I say this because you are now officially “state property.” You belong to the state of California until your sentence is complete. This new object you are given is a prison identification card. On this card is a head shot of your face along with your newly assigned prison number. Like my father so long ago, I had become a number, a number that had become more important in identifying who I am than my actual name.
Rights that citizens have out here are taken away. Privileges you have out here are taken away. You are given a list of books you cannot receive. You are given a good size book called Title 15, in which your prisoner rights are outlined. This book also outlines procedures for how you will be dealt with if you break laws in Title 15. I became acquainted with this book very well after I got in trouble for “taking trash off of the yard,” a situation in which I participated in assaulting another inmate during a race riot. I have been shot at, beat by police, and jumped by enemy gang members on the streets, but nothing I have lived through is more frightening than a prison race riot. It was about ten minutes of absolute chaos. I guess one of the more frightening aspects of that situation was witnessing absolute human savagery toward a person of a different  race. Some people belong in prison. My role in the situation was one of defense, but I did observe other inmates who truly had complete intentions of killing another person. The correctional officers that day shot two inmates with assault rifles, both in the legs, and other inmates, myself included, were shot with rubber bullets. At the time it felt like the man I was fighting with had punched me hard in the leg, probably trying to hit me in the genitals, but later on I learned it was a rubber bullet. For my participation I was sent to the “hole,” a type of prison for the prisoners. An exile for exiles that is technically called Administrative Segregation but is usually known as the “hole” or the “back.” It was in the “back” that I finally realized I had hit what I call “rock bottom.” That time was actually my third time in “Ad-Seg.”
The Second time I went to the back was for getting caught tattooing. I had developed a name for doing ok tattoos so I had a nice little business doing tattoos on people. Apart from that I had started taking college courses, and some people started to know me for helping people with their English essays. That time in the hole I had met an “older homie,” a fellow southern Mexican, who asked me if, when he got out of the hole, I could help him sign up for college classes. This older homie who went by the gang name Enano, which means midget in Spanish, was actually still in the hole when I returned for the riot. In the hole, inmates are allowed to go out to a type a giant dog kennel they call the “cage.” You are only allowed to go out to the cage 3 cells at a time, and only for 1 hour a day, for exercise or to stretch your legs out. During one of these times out in the cage, Enano asked me a question that changed my life forever. He asked: “what are you doing here?” I asked him what he meant by that, almost insulted. He asked me how much time I had left to go home, my answer was 8 years left. He tells me, “I get out in 80 years. My celly over there gets out in 120 years. Our neighbors over there, they both have life in prison. Never getting out! Even if they live to 200 they ain't never getting out. So I ask you again youngster, what are you doing here?” I really had no answer when faced with so many years! It was an impossible concept, trying to understand the idea of dying in prison. Enano then said something I could understand , “I know who you are, you help people. You are known as somebody who can help people, you are even willing to help me with the college stuff. You don't belong here, youngster. You belong somewhere else, helping someone. In here we are all useless. My advice to you is take your chicken shit 15 years and go back out to the world and help somebody while you still can.”
From that date I made a promise to myself to do everything I can in my power to get out of that prison. Not Ironwood, I knew I would eventually get out of that hell on earth. I'm talking about the prison I had built in my mind. A lot of people will tell you that all you find in prison are predators and prey, but that is a generalized statement. I found salvation in prison. I found art in prison. I found education in prison. I also found someone in prison who believed I could be better. I needed to hear it from the people I was trying to be like, that I was not like them. A moment of truth only takes seconds, but lasts forever. Eventually I was transferred out of Ironwood to a private prison in the state of Mississippi. Although not in California, this private prison handles any prison overcrowding issues for California. It is an example of  the privatization of correctional institutions. These companies are traded publicly on the New York stock exchange. They are private businesses that specialize in housing prisoners. They are also an example of the issues in mass incarceration that America is suffering from at the time. They have locked up so many people, and it has become such good business, that they have allowed private companies to get in on the action. As state property, I could not fight this move to such a far away place. It became nearly impossible for my family to visit me. The correctional officers in Mississippi were 99% black women, who were being paid the state minimum, which in Mississippi is about $8/hour. Corrections Corp. of America, and other private corrections companies, have created a business out of exiling people. It is at this prison that I realized the potential for common prison made items to be pieces of art.
In my opinion, these prison readymades are examples of art by outsiders. Out here in society these items might seem to make no sense. In prison, they have a function. Outside of prison, they have no true function. Taking away an object's function is essential in that object becoming a readymade. With no function and rendered only observable, the object can become a symbol of where it is from and why it was created, and by whom it was created. I had already decided somehow these objects were real art way before I had even heard of Duchamp and the infamous fountain. Like ancient African masks or pre-Columbian artifacts, these objects were not meant to be art as we know it, but a tool or a weapon.
Exiles, emigres, refugees, and expatriates uprooted from their lands must make do in their new surroundings, and the creativity as well as the sadness that can be seen in what they do is one of the experiences that has still to find its chroniclers.
—Edward Said
The part of this passage that speaks of certain experiences that has “still to find its chroniclers,” is probably what I came away with as actually speaking to me directly. Other passages were speaking about me. But this passage is one that I felt Said speaking directly to me! Saying to me: “what are you waiting for? You have the experiences! Share them! Let them know the truths you have seen! Let them see the beauty of creation that exists even  in the most wretched! Let them know that hope exists in even the darkest dungeons. That the borders, and divisions, and segregations you have in you have allowed you to show humanity something new and special!”
I paroled on May 27, 2016. Two weeks later I was enrolled at Santa Barbara City College. Since then I have focused on sharing my life with other people who have been formerly incarcerated and impacted by the American prison system. I decided to major in art because I am an artist. I belong to a student organization here at UCLA called Underground Scholars, a group of formerly incarcerated students who focus on helping and supporting each other as well as those still behind the walls, with the same message that education is a key to freedom. Obviously we are not a big organization, but we are here and we are not afraid to admit and share our lives in the hopes that society will stop the mass incarceration of minorities. There are more prisons in California than there are Cal-States and UC’s combined. I would like to see that reversed in my lifetime.
Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar territory, can also become prisons, and are often defended without reason or necessity. Exiles cross borders, break barriers of thought and experience.
—Edward Said
This passage gives me the most hope. I think of the proposals by the current White House administration [under Trump] to build a wall. But I also think of the fact that it has not been built yet. I think of my entire life being a series of borders, bars, cages, boxes, and how I was able to somehow not let them trap me. I become hopeful that others will do the same, and not let themselves be trapped or enclosed by a false sense of security by people who have monetary interest in mind by building new walls for us to live within. I think of the distance I created from my parents, who came here for a better life, and the divisions created within my own people by a system who at times seems to want division more than unity, and remain hopeful that by sharing these experiences of being exiled in my own land, I can help and bring people together. 
Alberto Lule

Alberto Lule uses readymades, mixed media installations, video, performance, and
tools used by agencies of authority to examine and critique the prison industrial
complex in the United States, particularly the California carceral state. Using his
own experiences, he aims to tie the prison industrial complex to other American
political issues such as immigration, homelessness, drug addiction, and mental
health. Lule creates artworks that explore institutional roles as gatekeepers of
knowledge, authorities of culture, administrators of discipline, and executors of
punishment. He is the recipient of the Public Impact Fellowship, Claire Trevor
School of the Arts, UC Irvine, 2022-2023. The 2020 Kay Nielsen Memorial
Drawing Award, The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Alberto received a BA in Art
from The University of California Los Angeles, and is currently pursuing his MFA
from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UC Irvine.

Cassandra Flores

Hello! My name is Cassandra Flores and I was raised in South El Monte after my parents’ immigrated from Nayarit, México to East LA. I spent my summers in high school exploring politics and multicultural literature. This is where I began to dissect my own cultural identity through the works of writers like Gloria Anzaldúa and Oscar Zeta Acosta. I find power in vulnerability and confrontation in all types of writing, including music. The lyricism of artists such as Clairo, Natalia Lafourcade, and Lorde foster an intimacy I hope to capture in my own writing. Things that bring me joy include my cat, Kiwi, dancing, concerts, and crafts that stimulate my creativity! As a student at UC Irvine, I study Social Policy and Public Service and I’ve been dancing with Ballet Folklorico de UCI for two years. My favorite poet at the moment is Yesika Salgado. I resonate with her experiences, the bilingualism in her writing, and aim to one day publish my own poetry book.

Tatyana Hazelwood

Tatyana grew up as a low-income, first-gen, African-American, Panamanian and Mexican student in both Orange County and San Diego, CA. She works as a System-Impacted Peer Mentor and an intern for the LIFTED Program. At UC Irvine, she is a Psychological Science (B.A.) and Criminology, Law & Society (B.A.) double major. Being a system-impacted student herself, she had a difficult upbringing and strives to find healing through success in education to end generational sacrifices. She began writing personal poems in her creative writing course in high school but often felt restricted to the conventional rules of poetry. Her works shared in Issue 4 are her most personal and meaningful poems.

Janellee Hernandez

Hello! My name is Janellee and I am a first-generation college student who was raised in a Guatemalan household. I have always loved how art has been a medium (in any form) that allows people to say something without actually speaking. Whether it’s to communicate a deeper meaning or is just there to simply exist. Photography has been something that I have always enjoyed and found that it is my way of self expression.

John Dayot

John Silvan Dayot is a rising senior at UCI studying English. He recently became an alumni of the award-winning nonprofit program Ghetto Film School (GFS). With a background in film, John wants to grow as a storyteller and develop projects with his community of talented friends. He believes art is always growing and is currently inspired by visual arts and capturing real life/people.

Daniel Le

Daniel Le is a third year student studying psychology with a minor in digital arts. Originally from Cerritos, CA, he enjoys exploring new things with friends, making spotify playlists, getting tattoos, and immersing himself in his Vietnamese culture.

Dontaye Henderson

Dontaye Henderson was raised in Atlanta Georgia and now resides in San Diego, California. He attends UCI studying to earn his BA degree in Sociology. His inspiration comes from his children and loving mother. He desires to use his education to help aid the struggling youth in society as a mentor. He enjoys writing poetry, reading, drawing, and cooking. He is grateful for this opportunity with furthering his education with UCI and plans to be the best version of himself towards everyone he meets.

Victor Lopez

My name is Victor Lopez. I am an incarcerated student at Richard J. Donovan State Prison. Serving a life sentence does not give a father much room to be a positive role model. Educating myself to motivate my daughter Arriana was the best that I could do. My past actions does not define who I am, with or without my freedom, I will contrive to be a better man.

Martha Trujillo

Martha Coral Trujillo is a 28-year-old currently attending Fullerton College to obtain a Paralegal Certificate after having completed a Master's Degree in Criminology, Law and Society. Martha's goal is to become a Criminal Lawyer and to continue to work with supporting youth at risk. Martha continues to write in journals and is currently working on Journal 33. Martha's passion for assisting and serving underrepresented youth has been the motivation for her to continue to reach higher and do more in the Justice System.

Patrick Acuña

Patrick was born in San Gabriel, California but was raised by the carceral system. After three decades of incarceration, he is the first member of UCI’s LIFTED (Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees) to transition to campus as a first-generation senior with an emphasis in Psychological Science and Criminology, Law, and Society. When Patrick isn’t on campus, he volunteers with Guide Dogs of America where he trains dogs for children on the autism spectrum and veterans managing PTSD and/or overcoming combat related mobility impairment. His other passions include backcountry hiking, working out, and traveling. He’s recently returned from a 30-day cross country road trip where he slept on the sidewalk of New York’s Time Square, a back-alley doorway in DC, and the parking lot of a Las Vegas Cracker Barrel.

Yuzhou Michael Ju

Yuzhou Michael Ju, a second-year Sociology major at UCI, is an international student who was born and raised in Chongqing, China. He completed his entire K-12 education in China before coming to the U.S. for college. Yuzhou is particularly interested in immigration studies, with a focus on Chinese Americans. Whenever he visits a Chinatown, he feels curious about the people there: what motivates them to move to a distant place, and how do they establish new homes in an unfamiliar country? First-generation immigrants, in particular, must have made significant commitments to their entire families in order to support the future of their offspring. In his free time, Yuzhou dedicates most of his time to volunteering as a tour guide at art exhibitions or historical relics museums in Chongqing. He guides visitors through exhibitions showcasing Dunhuang Buddhist murals and shares the history of Chongqing's role as the War Capital of China during WWII.

Feliz Aguilar

Feliz is a disabled, non-binary, first-generation, Latinx creator proudly hailing from the East Side of Salinas, CA. They recently graduated from UC Irvine in June 2023, double majoring in Literary Journalism and International Studies. Their passion for learning and experiences as a first-generation student inspired them to question the accessibility of post-undergraduate higher education, leading to the piece featured in this issue. The people fighting injustice around the world are their greatest inspiration, and they hope to continue standing in solidarity with those resisting oppression globally — whether in writing or on the ground.

Helena San Roque

My name is Helena San Roque. I’m a third year Literary Journalism major at UCI. I wrote my piece “Azat Artsakh, Free Us All'' as a nod to my Armenian heritage. However, it’s more than that— it wasn’t until college that I learned about the broad anti-imperialist struggle across various nations in Latin America, Palestine, Armenia, the Philippines, India, etc… In this piece, I talk about Armenia and Palestine: in 2020 the Artsakh war broke out after a decades long armistice between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Israel, which has committed grave atrocities against Palestine, continued to support Azerbaijan in their unjust war against Armenia, resulting in capturing Armenian territory in a trial of human rights abuses. But when your father’s homeland is attacked, what can I, an “American” college student, do? For me, to truly help emancipate my people, the answer was to get educated and organize.

Guadalupe Parra

Guadalupe is a first-generation student majoring in History with the goal of becoming a teacher. She was born in a tiny town in Jalisco, Mexico, and moved to the US with her parents when she was three. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley, surrounded by Mexican culture, and uses that as inspiration in her poetry.

Mariah Rosario

My name is Mariah Rosario and I am a UCI 2022 graduate and alumni. The following portfolio I submitted is my college senior thesis I submitted for my final. It depicts my story of self-emancipation and finding myself through independence and trauma.

Makyla McLeod

Makyla is a Black, first-generation student born and raised in North Carolina. She is currently entering her 3rd year in undergrad with a double major in International Studies and Literary Journalism. As the author of "I Educate", Makyla looked to voice not only her personal experience as the oldest child in a southern Black household looking to further her education, but to also pay homage and express gratitude to the village that continues to help her get there. In her free time, besides writing, she enjoys listening to music, reading, playing video games, and watching horror movies.

Serenity Thu Ritchey

Serenity is a third-year English major from Garden Grove, CA. She has a soft spot for poetry, among other things, like honeycombs, and the color green. She thinks words are pretty sweet and wants to believe in them. (Sometimes she does).

Josie Bitnes

Originally from Washington, Josie is a second year criminology, law, and society major seeking a literary journalism minor. She plans on attending law school to become a criminal defense attorney. In her free time, she skis with UCI’s Ski and Snowboard club and enjoys playing guitar, reading, and being outside in nature.

Corbin Li

Corbin is a first-generation college student studying Civil Engineering at UC Irvine. Growing up in California, they fell in love alongside Pacific air, late night guitar, and bonfires at the beach. Corbin’s passions lie in the intersection between engineering, art, and society, and they look forward to further exploring these topics in future years.

Erik Perez

First and foremost my name is Erik Perez and I am 20 years young. I am an artistic expressionist and Chicano artist. I’m from Southern California where we dream big and plant seeds for the world to flourish.

Francisco Vazquez

My name is Francisco Vazquez and I am 20 years old from the city of Santa Ana–that’s the place I call home. I’ve been in and out of the Orange County Juvenile Hall since the age of 14. I’m on my way to prison and I’m in a different mindset than the one I had 2 years ago when I first got here. In here I like to read, draw, and work out. I got a hidden talent which is to sing and I would like to pursue that upon release. I attend college here and I try to be a role model for my peers. In the future I hope to give back to my community, which I used to terrorize at some point.

Helen Barahona

Helen Barahona recently graduated from the University of California, Irvine (‘23). She double-majored in Political Science (Honors) & Sociology and over the summer she interned in DC with the Shadow Topics team as a research intern at the Political Violence Lab. Prior to working with the lab she served as a student assistant at the UCI Basic Needs Center, and as the managing editor for LUCID through the Dream Project Fellowship. During her free-time she likes to read, write, paint, rate movies on letterboxd and go bike-riding!

Jaaziel de la Luz

I am from Veracruz, Mexico and currently a second year math PhD student at UCI. I enjoy writing, reading philosophy, skateboarding, learning languages, traveling, hiking, jogging, sketching, and doing research. I am passionate about community building and exploring the world.

Juan Jimenez

My name is juan jimenez. 
I’ve been incarcerated for 
just about 5 yrs. In the 
midst of this quest, I’ve 
developed a hobby!
             I’m a writer 
from the ghetto! Don’t you 
disregard my message . . .
Told them all that made me 
feel like I was less than: 
             Here’s a little bout my story. Not a boy. I know 
             I’m destined

Pablo Ramirez

My name is Pablo. They also call me Pablito. At this moment Im placed in JH. In here I’ve learned many things about myself and my surroundings. I’ve learned how the brain works and how trauma affects your thinking. Right now I’m going to high school at the moment. Ima graduate in December. Im excited because I want to go to college. I used to be wild. I didn’t care about life Itself. All I cared about was putting in work for my hood and shit like that. that was me out there. In here Im more calm kick back. I’m changing. This change Im doing is mostly for my family. They need me out there to support them emotionally and financially. I [used to be] the man of the house. At a young age I would work hard and pay my jefa for rent. [My mom] would struggle and that bummed me out, but there were also times where I shit where I slept. Now Im focused on getting my education and learning new stuff every day. Im more open minded. When I get out me voy a poner las pellas to work hard to buy a house for my lil family. I want to be a welder. I wanna learn the art of welding. Im a hands on person. Im thankful for everything I’ve been through. It taught me a lot.

Samog-J Lemon

I am a current student at Irvine Valley College and I'm majoring in communicative disorders. I was born in Anaheim. I love spending time with family and friends; as I got older I realized how important that was. I am a Christian and go to church with my great grandma every Sunday. I like to write poems on the beach; it’s my new way of clearing my mind. I actually do write now to clear my head, something I would’ve never knew I liked but I find therapeutic.

Allan Plata

Born in City of Orange, Ca., my family and I have moved from room to room. Eventually my mother was able to afford an apartment of her own. I always lived in rural areas in the same city then eventually I would get involved with the people in my environment. Father was in and out the picture due to negative habits and mother was either busy or would put her priorities before her own children. My sister was a second mother and also a friend that would try to guide me to do better things for myself, though I was stubborn and didn’t want to listen to what others had to say.

Rachael Collins

Rachael has been an educator and teacher of writing in the California Community College system and at UCI since 2005. A proud homeschooled student, CCC transfer and UC graduate twice over with a PhD in early modern poetry, Rachael is committed to curriculum design that focuses on providing high quality, innovative, and democratically-centered writing instruction to disadvantaged learners, including those who are limited to online learning environments. Drawing upon the multidisciplinary, multimedia work published in Lucid, Rachael's courses focus on the transformative potential of personal writing in higher education. She thinks that when students are given the space and the tools to express themselves, they write beautifully.

Ryan "Flaco" Rising

Ryan Flaco Rising, West Coast Credible Messengers Director and PhD candidate in Criminology Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine, leverages his personal experience as a formerly incarcerated individual to assist others transitioning into higher education at UCI. His research focuses on creating pathways for formerly incarcerated individuals in higher education and analyzing the evolution of related programs. Ryan's advocacy, including founding the Gaucho Underground Scholars Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has played a pivotal role in expanding similar programs across UC campuses. He has received prestigious awards for his work and authored pieces in various publications, showcasing the power of formerly incarcerated individuals in producing innovative solutions and sustainable pathways for their communities, encapsulated in his 'Organic Leadership' theory.

Lisandra Rising

Lisandra is an Undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine majoring in Social Policy and Public Service with a focus on Education. Lisandra serves as the Recruitment Coordinator for the Underground Scholars program at UCI. She is also part of a blended family and lives with her son and daughter who are both 14.

Mia Voloshin

Mia is a Freshman at University High and plays indoor volleyball. On her free time, she enjoys being with her friends, shopping, and going to the beach. She eventually wants to pursue college courses before and after she graduates high school.

Riley Rising

Riley is originally from Montana and moved to CA last year in eighth grade. He is now a Freshman at University High and is involved with jiu jitsu and wrestling at his high school. Riley enjoys skateboarding and free-styling on his free time. He wants to join the marines after he graduates.

Pedro Nieves

Pedro Nieves is a UCI alumni who graduated with a Bachelor's degree in the Arts. Born in Puebla Mexico, he immigrated to the U.S. at 2 years old. After getting involved with the Dream Center and Underground Scholars Initiative, he’s now passionate about advocating for underrepresented communities by using his photography and video production skills. He hopes to become a skilled photographer and creative and looks forward to applying to graduate school to further hone his artistic abilities and create a name for himself in the art world.