I am a sucker for a feel-good story, and this is the best one I’ve come across in a long time. It’s from the San Francisco Chronicle, written by Meredith May, and here’s how it opens:
A group of incarcerated teenage boys at the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton slouch in plastic orange chairs, arms crossed, scowling at their tie-clad visitor, whose lecture will eat into their TV time.
Francis “Frankie” Guzman, a 32-year-old lawyer and recipient of a prestigious Soros Justice Fellowship to advocate for juvenile justice, gets right to the point.
“How many of you read ‘Lord of the Flies’? It’s like that in here, right? But which one of you is leading? Do you really want to follow that guy?”
Guzman speaks like he knows what he’s talking about, and the boys, ages 14 to 17, take notice. There’s a perceptible shift as they sit up a little straighter.
Guzman knows exactly what it’s like to wear khaki pants every day and sleep in a cell. When he was 15, he and a friend stole a car and robbed a liquor store at gunpoint in Southern California, resulting in six years behind bars inside the California Youth Authority.
It was the culmination of a childhood defined by tragedy in East Oxnard, an enclave of farmworkers and day laborers where gangs, family and community had blended together over the generations, blurring the lines between loyalty to the street and to the self.
“Kids don’t make smart decisions,” Guzman said. “But ultimately, you are not the worst thing you have done. The weakest thing I did made me the strongest person I am today.”
Read the rest of the story here.
Photo: Francis “Frankie” Guzman (right) talks with inmate Chad Scott at the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton. Guzman, who was sentenced to 15 years at age 15, has become an advocate for juvenile justice. Photo: Max Whittaker/Prime, Special To The Chronicle