LARNED — Youth residents and staff at the Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility heard a message of hope from someone residents could relate to.
Max Mendoza, a former juvenile offender, told the youth that it wasn’t going to be easy and it would take hard work, but that they don’t have to go it alone.
He gave youth a realistic sense of what it takes to make it and to be successful “on the outside,” as he worked to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth.
He described how, through the choices he made, received felony charges which resulted in a lengthy stay at the Topeka Juvenile Correctional Facility.
Mendoza shared how being bi-racial made him feel torn between whites and Hispanics. He spoke of gang involvement, struggles with addiction and the need to feel accepted by others.
He described the violence in his home while growing up, how his father’s addictive behavior led to his mother’s addiction, and the manner in which it affected the entire family.
Mendoza said he spent extended periods of time in segregation, due to his anger and his desire to fit in. Gradually, he started to see that he needed to make changes. Through the help of a mentor, he learned to trust others and see that there were people in the world who really do care.
He stressed that having a positive influence in your life is absolutely necessary to overcome the hurdles of incarceration.
He said after leaving Topeka Juvenile Correctional, he faced charges in Missouri. Again, mentors helped him during that period by sending letters to the judge and by visiting him in jail.
After the presentation, Mendoza confided to Tom Snyder, LJCF re-entry director, that it marked the first time he had spoken with youth about his life story.
He was, “taken back by the faces in the audience,” because they reminded him so much of the other teenagers with whom he had been incarcerated.
Hopefully, Mendoza’s words will enable other youth to overcome their obstacles and to change their own lives in a similar, positive way.