Transformation and Healing: Sandra's Story

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Sandra Martinez is a recent graduate of the Urban Peace Academy, and like so many of our graduates, her story is remarkable. An organizer from an early age, Sandra has always been a leader dedicated to her community. As a child, Sandra and her twin ran away from an abusive home and joined a gang shortly after. That gang became their family.

Years later, and fed up with cycling in and out the system, Sandra turned to educating herself anyway she could about her indigenous roots, connected with other Chicanos, and experienced profound healing that changed her life. She has found true peace in transforming lives and creating safety.

First incarcerated at the age of 12, Sandra was in and out of jail until she was 17 years old. She graduated from high school and gave birth to her first daughter from within the system. Once Sandra was released, she attended college through scholarships provided by the Department of Justice.  As the only self-identified “chola” on campus, she endured extreme bullying which caused her to fall into deep depression. Unable to connect with other students, or make friends, she returned to gang life which eventually led to prison. While in prison, she made the decision to change her life and never return. Once out, she made friends with artists, musicians, activists and other Chicanos and reunited with her culture.

During this transformative time in her life, she had a successful career in real-estate, and co-ran a community center farming group in South Central that provided street clean up services, ESL classes and food giveaways to families in need. Then in 2016, Sandra was introduced to gang intervention work.

All of her collective personal and professional experiences would finally come together. "I could only sell myself as a real estate agent, with professional business and communication skills. And to them, I wasn’t the right fit." She was invited to interview, but she completely bombed and was denied the position.

“Nobody told me that I could be myself. I didn’t understand that they wanted to know about these traumatic experiences and about me and my life. They wanted to know I was in prison. They wanted to know that I was in gangs. They wanted to know that I had battled with drugs and alcohol.”

Determined to commit her life's work to helping others, Sandra waited a few months and then reapplied for a different position as a Community Intervention Worker. Soon after, she was invited to interview and this time she told her story, and got the job.

"As soon as I found out, I gave notice to my bosses — two real estate brokers. I gave up my career in real-estate to do gang intervention. They asked me if I was crazy. And I said, “I’d be crazy not to. This is my passion and my purpose. I’m not looking to be rich and full of money. I’m looking to be rich in Spirit and to be full of love and full of life.”

Sandra now works for Heluna Health, in the Youth Development Services Program where she was first introduced to the Urban Peace Institute. Sandra jumped at the chance to enroll in our Urban Peace Academy, and completed 140-hours of intense coursework focusing on effective strategies for forming trust with both residents and officers to ensure neighborhood safety. She learned comprehensive skills for deescalating violence, initiating outreach to gang members and their families, and brokering peace between rival gangs.

Sandra graduated from the Urban Peace Academy in May 2018, and has never been more focused on her future. “I want to spend my life healing broken people. I want to spend my life healing the heart that hurts. That is my purpose: To transform and help people evolve in their life. To help people learn how to love themselves, and heal.”

Sandra has put her Urban Peace Academy training to great use. Expanding on her gang intervention work, Sandra is exploring work in Restorative Justice and Generational Trauma. She volunteers at several prisons, and is a lead facilitator in the Victim-Offenders Educational Group where she facilitates deep reconciliation and healing sessions. "The more I do prison work, the more I feel called to help others make their way in society once they are out of the system."

Through the Urban Peace Academy and from within her indigenous Chumash community, she has learned extensively about generational trauma. She works with native youth and men who are currently incarcerated speaking to them about generational trauma, how to come to terms with it and how to free oneself from guilt so that true reconciliation and healing can take place.

"If someone gave me the chance when I was a kid, things would have been different for me. So I want to be that person for the youth. For the next seven generations. I want to show them what healing looks like. What love looks like. I want to show them spirit. I want to help them and let them know that it is going to be okay.”

While she was a student at Urban Peace Academy, Sandra Martinez has the opportunity to be interviewed by Bonnie Boswell, PBS Newswire. Watch the full coverage on Urban Peace Institute and our work throughout Los Angeles here.

Caitlin KosecComment