He was in Juvenile Hall at age 11 and state prison by 18. For Antonio Martinez, his first real chance at a successful life didn’t come until age 46 when he enrolled at an innovative new support center for offenders released on Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) in Riverside and started taking classes toward obtaining his GED.
“There was a time when I looked at my life and tried to think of a time when I really felt comfortable and at peace,” Martinez said. “I couldn’t think of one until I got my GED. I felt like it was the best decision I had made in my whole life.”
Martinez actually enjoyed school when he was very young. He called it his “safe place” compared to his home environment. That changed in fifth grade when he and other students watched a fight that tragically ended with a classmate lying dead on the playground. He no longer felt safe at school.
Soon, he found himself in Orange County Juvenile Hall. Years later, a pattern of abusing drugs and alcohol landed him in state prison, where he would serve time on and off again for the next 22 years due in part to 23 parole violations. In 2012, Antonio was released from prison on PRCS and was determined to stay clean and sober.
At the same time, the Riverside County Probation Department and the Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE) were partnering to open the new Day Reporting Center (DRC), a “one-stop shop” place where PRCS offenders, like Martinez, could find help with completing their education, counseling, even documents needed to re-enter society.
“My probation officer said I should go,” Martinez said. “No, she said I HAD to go. Like everything else, I didn’t think it would work.”
Malcom Anderson, a teacher at the DRC, notes its importance to PRCS offenders because they often don’t know where to go for information they need, don’t have transportation, and sometimes just need motivation. “It’s work experience, it’s counseling, it’s information,” he said. “All in one place.”
Riverside County Chief Probation Officer Mark Hake said the DRC was a true collaborative effort between the Probation Department, RCOE, Department of Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Department of Public Social Services, and other agencies. The educational component is critical, he said. “The higher the education level, the less likely they are to get into crime and the less prone they are to recidivism,” Hake said.
Martinez credited his teacher, Malcom Anderson from RCOE, for helping him study for and pass the GED. “He talked in parables,” Martinez joked. “He would turn a story about a motorcycle into a math problem.”
Even getting to the GED test was not easy for Martinez. On the way into the testing room, he bumped into an old friend who offered him a chance to get high. “I told him no, I’m taking my GED,” he said.
Martinez is now trained as a Peer Support Specialist and hopes to be working for Riverside County at the Temecula Day Reporting Center and is grateful for the chance to give back. He will be instilling hope and support to other offenders, like himself, who come through the DRC.
Without the help of his teachers and the probation officers who cared about him, “I’d probably be right back where I was, sitting in prison,” Antonio said. “Now, my main thing is education. Once I got that GED, believe me, it kicked open the door to a whole new life for me. I believe in hope now.”