Eddie Graduation

Beating the Odds

The Story of Eddie Padilla

Written by Gary Gardner

Eddie had just gotten done destroying cars when police (presumably called to patrol the area given all the noise he was making) started to come close. Eddie new already that his gang profile and reputation for fighting in schools would make him the first person police would assume damaged the cars if he was caught near them. Eddie ran away reflecting on the moment of shock he had just witnessed. Eddies father was finally out of prison and his mother was released a few days before.

Both of Eddie’s parents were high when he came home from high risk camp that day. Drug use, theft and parole violations were customary. Eddies displays of rage and damage on the cars was the night he reflected as “a lower point of my life, but not the lowest” Eddie was headed down the wrong path. The same path of his parents he thought.

After spending the day at high risk youth day camp it was young Eddies first time coming home to both his mother and father. He was running home to what he would define as a “perfect home” that is with both his parents, a circumstance he was not accustomed to. Eddies mother was released from prison a few days ago and on this day; his father was to also be released. All of them would finally be together. It would be a perfect family finally, all young Eddie would hope for. Or so he thought.

As Eddie ran he slowed when he got a block from his family apartment complex in San Diego California, under the hot sun, his parents were finally home. Breathless when he entered the door he prepared for a scene out of a movie. The scene was not as it was supposed to be. He looked to the living room to see both his parents sitting down already high. It took a few second's for the shock to turn into rage. Saying nothing to his father he has not seen for a year, he ran out of the apartment and displayed his rage by smashing cars in attempts to purge his minds of what he had just seen. It was the expectation of that perfect moment, and the letdown of it that made him most angry. When he slowed to catch his breath that feeling was still there, the hurt still stung and he could not help but ask the question, why did his parents love drugs more than they loved him.

Eddie spent that night at the house of his baseball coaches, Henry. His coach being supportive, a roof over his head and something to sleep on he took little comfort in because he was not sure he could ever respect his parents again. Eddie felt that his days of going to church were over. Eddie felt angry with his religion, angry with God. At this time, Eddie's life was a challenging. Born in the South Bay area of San Diego, both parents had been in and out of prison. The use of drugs, parole violations and theft would result into his parents going back.

“Even though my grandparents tried to instill good morals in me, I grew up unstable and confused,” Eddie said. “I had a lot of anger and frustration already in elementary school; I was always getting into fights”.

Adults in Eddie’s life would sometimes help care for him, there were his fifth and sixth grade teachers, and elementary school counselor and baseball coaches, Roy and Henry, who invited Eddie into their homes and took him to church. With the care given to him from others it was no substitute for what he was looking for, a family, his own family. By middle school he had a reputation of getting into fights and was constantly shuffled around between living with parents, aunts, friends, and grandparents. By age 13, Eddie was headed down the same path of his parents. He started to use drugs regularly and the kind of people he hung around with had no interest in education. He was not allowed to walk at his eighth grade graduation because of his constant fighting at school. Going into his freshman year of high school was not much different. Eddie was deeply involved in gang activity and utilizing drugs regularly. Eddies enjoyment of playing baseball would get him clean for the season were he would put in just enough effort to be eligible. When Eddie failed his classes Henry, who had been an X gang member himself tried to reach out to Eddie, he was not yet ready to listen.

The wakeup call was when Eddie was kicked out of another high school for fighting. He ended up in continuation school with one last chance to salvage his high school education. Eddies uncle was the principal at Palmar continuation school were Eddie was enrolled. His uncle offered to help his nephew catch up. At first Eddie refused and had no interest in listening. After his uncle enrolled him in a drug rehabilitation program, Eddie began to change.

“I started thinking about my future, I did not want to end up like my parents” he said. “My grandfather said that a wise man learns from his mistakes, but a wiser man learns from the mistakes of others. I credit my grandfather for teaching me to be a man”.

Eddie moved back into his grandparents’ house with the goal of making them proud. He began to listen to his coach. Eddie stated to attend both sessions of the school day in continuation school while most students would only attend one. He also began to attend church regularly. Eddie was 17 when he made a dramatic change in his life. He understood the need to forgive his parents a big turnaround from the night he was so angry after running home to see his father return from jail. Eddie completely stopped using drugs and his friends changed to include the author of this article. At this time Eddie took a much heavier course load than his pears and started to distinguish himself ready to Graduate back at his old high school. He was ready to return to high school for his senior year. Eddie said the administration and teachers could not be more proud of him and could not believe how much he had changed. In that year Eddie earned all A’s and B’s worked as an on campus office assistant and founded the Christian club on campus. His class supported him and at the end of June he graduated.

After high school Eddie looked to higher education. He went to community college as most kids do, except again, he distinguished himself by winning both academic and spirit awards. When he was finished he was looking for ways to transfer, but at this point like most students finance among other things started to become a factor. He was working as a custodian for the South Bay Union School District for two years, waiting for an opportunity. Around this time Eddies younger cousin, Anthony, was now at his Eddies old continuation school where he met Ronald Williams, who worked for Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego California. Anthony told Williams that he knew his cousin had always dreamed of going.

With help of Mr. William, Eddie applied and was accepted. At first prospect of competing with students who he considered were smarter had intimidated Eddie. At the new student orientation his worries increased when he saw that most other students brought their parents with them. At this time, Eddie started to doubt himself, he wasn't sure he could make it through college on his own academically or financially. At the new student orientation Scott Shoemaker point Loma's associate vice president for enrollment noticed the stress of Eddie. Shoemaker sent Eddie to the office of financial aid. At the office Eddie felt an immediate connection with Macias, the financial aid officer. Eddie said,

“She embraced me and encouraged me and prayed for me she told me we would take things one step at a time and should be there for me”.

With the support he received he entered his first class still nervous sat down at his desk remembering to himself “so it begins”. He immediately made himself known to Professor in such manner by working hard. Five months later it was time first final exam. Hardly able to contain his desire to know is grade the Professor graded his exam directly in front of him and gave him an “A”. Sometimes Eddie was struck by the disparity between two worlds he inhabited, the warm academic surrounding of his University and often defined as hopeless, violent world at home. Where he watched his cousins and friends struggle with the problems he had overcome. After 2 1/2 years Eddie graduated with a degree in sociology and a concentration in criminal justice. He participated in commencement in May 2010 and finished up his last class that summer. He is now working on a graduate degree in criminal psychology in hopes to become a probation officer for the youth. Eddie lives and works in San Diego California, he says he loves his parents and hopes that if anyone finds themselves in a situation similar to his that his story inspires them to push. Despite the social inequalities that may have produced such a situation like his does not mean one can’t gain an education.