Friday, May 27, 2011

Edgar Rivas: Ex-con cherishes freedom but laments that he cannot vote

By Edgar Rivas

Yesterday, I met an ex-convict, he was a tow truck driver named Johny. He told me that he has never voted and probably will never be able too. He explained to me how that came about.

Johny told me the story of how his mother got tired of getting involved with bad men so for part of his teenage life he grew up without a father figure. But his mother, through her actions, taught him the importance of personal responsibility, self reliance, and living within his means. Johny told me, “I saw my mother struggle, on her own, to pay the bills and to put food on the table so that I could eat; she did not buy lavish things to make herself look good; she thought of my needs first. The memories of her struggles have inspired me to be responsible and self reliant.”

Unfortunately, he had not learned the lessons in time to save him from self destruction. You see, Johny was incarcerated for fourteen years for shooting and causing the death of a rival gang member when he was a teenager. And even though Johny lives a responsible life now, he cannot vote, never has because he was not yet eighteen when he had committed his terrible crime, and probably never will because there is little chance he will ever be pardoned. Because of that, he now laments the fact that he had acted so irresponsible. Now he has no say so to what is currently happening to our country.

Having been in jail for fourteen years, Johny had to deal with the Mexican Mafia which was always very demanding and totalitarian. In order to survive, Johny, like others that find themselves incarcerated with the mafia, had to work hard to meet the needs of the mafia which meant that he had to learn to live without. Not unlike many that live in third world nations.

Now that he is no longer incarcerated, is married, has children of his own, and has many responsibilities, Johny explained to me, that he loves the freedom he has now to meet his own needs, but most of all, he takes pride in being able to fulfill the needs of his loved ones like providing food and shelter for them. In order to do that, he told me, he definitely lives within his means so that he does not have to rely on anyone else, not even creditors to pay his bills. He told me, “Whenever I get the urge to buy something, I say to myself, if I don’t have the cash, I just won’t buy it.” He told me that whenever people come to him to borrow money, he simply says, “no.” When they complain, he likes to tell them, “If a little old lady like my mother made it on her own, then you can do it also.” Johny’s mother still lives on her own in a middle class neighborhood in Lakewood, California.

Johny understands the importance of being financially responsible, but most of all, he understands the importance of being self reliant; he appreciates the freedom and empowerment that comes along with it. He understands that reliance on others often leads to complacency and laziness and, he for one, does not feel that he should be funding (although he cannot vote, he still has to pay taxes, of course) the irresponsible behavior of others. That’s why he does not agree with the current administration’s willingness to bail out everyone especially those companies and individuals that do not have his discipline to operate within their means.

If only our leaders were as financially responsible as Johny, a former gang member and current tow truck driver, our country would not be in its current financial state. Instead, the government wants to continue to: spend, spend, spend into oblivion. The only thing the current administration is doing with its “stimulus packages” is stimulating the downfall of our country.

As the Membership Director of the LACYR (Los Angeles County Young Republicans), I would have loved to have recruited Johny on his current principles alone. He understands the importance of voting, something most of us take for granted. Currently, Johny can only dream of making a difference regarding the direction his country is going, if he could only vote, he could’ve been making a difference.

I will be staying in touch with Johny, I believe, that both, him and I, have important personal stories to share with young men and woman, especially those that are growing up in high crime areas. Johny and I have something in common, we’re both ex-gang members, but we both live responsible, productive life styles, now. But, unlike Johny, I never crossed the line and did anything that stripped me of the power to vote. Although Johny can’t vote, he can still join me in talking to young Americans for the purpose of sharing our stories and instilling an appreciation for the right to vote; in the process, hopefully, convincing them not to do anything to jeopardize that right which our forefathers worked so hard to provide. That way, they can retain their ability to influence the direction of their country, indefinitely.

So the next time you consider not voting, remember Johny’s story. Be thankful you live in a country where you have the right to choose your leaders and you have a say in the way your country operates.

Vote, get involved! And don’t do anything to lose that power. Your country’s future depends on it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Edgar Rivas an ex-gang member that was involved with the Crips, and later a Chicano gang, in Los Angeles. At age eighteen he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and at one point could not read, write, or talk without stuttering. However, since then, he has held management jobs, now owns real estate, and has been married since 1996. Currently, he is attending college and has made the Dean’s List with Honors. He has served on the Los Angeles County Young Republicans board of directors and currently is the Treasurer of “Ready for Change,” a nonprofit organization. Edgar says, “Because I have learned through experience that excuses and denials don’t solve problems, I am a huge advocate of honesty and PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY!”

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