California State University, San Marcos

08/23/2017 | News release | Distributed by Public on 08/24/2017 06:54

Finding a Purpose after Prison

Making Transitions

Santa Barbara City College recently graduated its 10 Transitions Program cohort. Leyva has helped launch a program at MiraCosta College and is hoping to do the same at Palomar College.

'Martin aspires to erase the margins and empower society's underdog by helping them become successful through higher education,' said Dr. Xuan Santos, a CSUSM assistant professor of sociology who has known Leyva for more than 10 years.

'As a graduate student, Martin has worked tirelessly to bring the Transitions Program to North San Diego County as more men and women experience mass incarceration and the tentacles of the Prison Industrial Complex. As more people are re-entering society, we are looking for felony-friendly employers and institutions of higher learning to become OGs - Opportunity Givers.'

Leyva wants to create a pipeline that will help formerly incarcerated individuals transfer to four-year colleges and universities. To help facilitate this transition and the transfer process, Santos said they are planning to start a CSUSM chapter of Project Rebound, a program being used at nine other CSU campuses. Santos noted that Leyva also has spearheaded a student organization at CSUSM called 'The Transitions Collective' for formally incarcerated students and their allies.

Leyva plans to continue his work, and his education, after he graduates from CSUSM in May. He's looking at a Ph.D. program at the University of New Mexico as one possibility. Regardless of where he attends school for his doctorate, he will continue to follow the directive his prison elder gave him - 'Help the people.'

It's a mantra that guides him every day.

His mother, once relieved when her son was incarcerated so that she knew he would have meals and a bed, now tells Leyva, 'I don't have to worry about you anymore.'

She knows he doesn't drink. She knows he doesn't use. She's been at restaurants with Leyva and seen strangers approach to shake his hand and thank him.

'She sees a whole different side of me,' Leyva said. 'I'm blessed to have her and blessed that she knows her only son is actually doing good.'

Turning his life around has also allowed Leyva to have a relationship with his daughters. Leyva calls it a 'healing relationship' because he was on drugs or alcohol, incarcerated or simply absent for much of their lives. His older daughter, Alix, is 25 and lives in Santa Barbara, while younger daughter Kailani is finishing high school in Hawaii.

In June, all three were together for Father's Day. Leyva took Alix and Kailani on a tour of CSUSM and all three donned University sweatshirts for their first Father's Day photo together.

'It was absolutely beautiful,' Leyva said. 'When my kids can see that the father that they knew or heard about is no longer that person, it's a beautiful thing.

'Ten years ago, right out of prison trying to figure out what I was going to do, I couldn't look in the mirror and say, 'You're a good man. I love you.' Today, I look in the mirror and say, 'You have a purpose in life. You love yourself and you love others.' '