Jesse grew up without a close relationship with his parents, and as a youth, he found a sense of family through a gang that took him in. Eventually, that lifestyle resulted in incarceration at Camp David Gonzales, where he immediately met C/HOPE program director, Fernando, and enrolled in classes for people who already had their GED (equivalent to high-school diploma) to engage in academic work relating to real-world topics, such as war. Jesse cites Fernando as an important influence: "He played a huge role. He was a mentor to me. He was there for me to seek guidance. When I got out, I was attempting to do things that I had never planned on. I had planned that my life was going to be in prison. Now I had so many options open to me. That's what Fernando and C/HOPE provided me."
After his release from Camp Gonzales, Jesse's C/HOPE re-entry counselor Emily helped him enroll at El Camino community college. Jesse realized the he wouldn't be able to fulfill his career goal, the police academy, because although his juvenile records were sealed, that history—and his prior gang affiliation—made him ineligible. Emily helped Jesse refocus by identifying his goal, which was to make the world a more just place, and finding an alternative path of pursuing political science toward a career in law and/or politics. Jesse transferred to Santa Monica College to complete his Associate of Arts degree and transfer requirements. With Emily's help, Jesse explored schools and completed six sets of applications for admission and financial aid to top state universities. He was accepted at all six and enrolled at U.C. Berkeley with full financial aid.
"I started school going for film as a major, but I took a political science class, and they were talking about what's going on in our government. It captured my attention. All of these big things were happening, and I wasn't playing a role or paying any attention to it. Especially after having my son, it all seemed so much more important, more real. It demanded my attention more."
Now completing his first year of studies at Berkeley, Jesse has continued to seek enrichment opportunities. He has been accepted for a summer fellowship at Duke University as well as a study-abroad program next year in Paris, at Sciences Po. He still needs help to secure housing there, and C/HOPE and Coalition staff and board members are doing all they can through their personal networks to ensure that Jesse can accept this wonderful opportunity.
Jesse is a father, and he finds that role very inspirational: "What drives every decision I make now is that I want to make sure the world I leave my son is better than the world I've experienced."
As for his future plans, Jesse says, "I've thought about law school, but I'm not really sure. I just want to be involved with the decision-making process of our government. It's a long shot, but I could see myself being in elected office. It's one of my goals. My dream would be to be a Supreme Court Justice. I know that's way far off, but it's my dream. I want to be able to make a change in the government and in our society."