The following speech was delivered by PEP volunteer Guillermo Mendoza at a Toastmaster meeting, and he generously shared it with us to publish here.
PEP volunteer and mentor Guillermo Mendoza of Houston, TX
What would you do if 15 years of your life disappeared? What would you do if those years were from when you were 18 years old to when you were 33 years old?
Madam Toastmasters, fellow toastmasters and honored guests good morning!
Close your eyes and imagine for a moment what happened in your life from 18 to 33 years old.
I met Johnny F. in a graduation party, this particular group he belonged to was graduating from a night school program where for 5 months they learned about finances, business, plans, goals and how to survive and be successful in a world that changed without them during the 10 to 15 years on average they spent in prison.
I was at that graduation because I had been invited to be Johnny’s mentor and I met with him the following week.
I said “Johnny before we start working I need to know what happened? What’s your story? What was the big mistake?”
Johnny said “I was young and stupid, a friend, a bad friend asked me to help him to go and scare somebody, when we were scaring this person things got out of control, my friend pulled out a gun and shot him, I was in shock and surprised but that did not prevent me from jumping to this person and ask him: are you ok? He was not, but he survived, in his statement he declared that I was not armed, that I did not shoot him and that actually I tried to help him, but that did not help my case, the prosecution based on the guilty by association law stated in my report that I was armed, that I pulled out a gun and I shot him, I was shocked when I read it, it was an exact copy of the report in my friend’s file, but they were entitled to do that. I was sentenced to 15 years; today I feel I am an 18-year-old young man in a 33-year-old body, I feel my life was on hold for 15 years. I have the same aspirations and desires, I wanted my first car, I wanted my first job, I wanted to go to college, and to find a nice woman to start a family some day. I am starting again”
After being released on January 17th , 2012 Johnny went to a transition house, he got a job within the first week and he rode his bike almost 20 miles every day for 6 months until he saved enough money to buy his first car, he then was promoted and started attending the University of Houston to pursue his bachelors in business administration degree.
He saved money again to get his second car, he did not sell his first car he gave it to his 63 year old mother in San Antonio to help her move more safely in a bad neighborhood he didn’t like her to walk in those streets. His mother left his father when he was 4 years old, he was never present in his life.
Johnny is the client that pays me less money, actually he does not pay me at all, but he is the one paying me the highest in satisfaction and results.
He is disciplined with his time and his money, when I asked him what are we going to work with? How is life? He said life is good I have my first job, I have my first car, I am in college, I go to church, I do exercise I met a young woman I like. I said then what is the next step how do I help you?, he said I guess we can work on my business plan to start a weekend business.
Wash away is the name he picked for his mobile carwash pressure cleaning service, it is not only a business plan, he is already ahead of the game and got 2 used pressure washers while he is working on his business plan.
Johnny has no time to lose he realizes that those 15 years gave him a lot of perspective but no opportunity to work on tangible results and now he is working on getting them.
My speech today had to be a dramatic one, I don’t know if this is dramatic enough, but if you want dramatic just pull out any of the files in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program: difficult childhoods, abuse, violence, bad decisions and big mistakes but also new committed disciplined men, working hard to finally get the life they always deserved.
Johnny this speech is for you I am so proud of you I am very glad that you are rebuilding your life and it is a real pleasure to work with men like you.