I remember asking strangers for a quarter in front of a liquor store to quiet the psychological and physical pain of being sober. People that didn’t understand drug addiction and alcoholism usually judged me as a useless member of society. It was easy to limit their perspectives to what society has conditioned them to believe about people like myself. However, no one is perfect and when I realized this fact, I stopped beating myself up for my mistakes and illnesses.
At the age of 13, I worked for my uncle’s food truck as a cashier and through my personal observations I learned that Hispanic adults usually end up working at jobs like these. Given these experiences, I assumed that in my adulthood I would live off of a minimum wage job until I was too old to work. As a freshman at Dorsey High School, I felt the need to have a job so I got hired at Dominos. My High School did not have resources for students like myself with trauma and drug addiction problems before the age of 18 so I ended up missing graduation and finished late. It was painful to watch my closest friends walk the stage as I felt like school was not for me.
“At the age of 13, I worked for my uncle’s food truck as a cashier and through my personal observations I learned that Hispanic adults usually end up working at jobs like these. Given these experiences, I assumed that in my adulthood I would live off of a minimum wage job until I was too old to work.”
– Ester Mendez
After High School, I thought of many ways to become successful without going to school. This led me to a difficult life that revolved around drug addiction and the struggles of obtaining money without a job. When the pain became unbearable and my care for living started to dangerously diminish, I sought for help. Fortunately, I met amazing women at alcoholics and narcotics anonymous meetings that experienced the same traumas I did and went to Universities. The relationships I built with these women helped me to believe in myself and the possibility of a first-generation Mexican American woman with a criminal record to succeed as a student at a University.
My first goal was to find a stable job after getting an AA degree at a community college. I joined a club at Santa Monica College where I finally felt significantly welcomed. ‘The Homeboys and Homegirls Club’ of Santa Monica College was a club that supported formerly incarcerated students by introducing us to other formerly incarcerated students at UC Universities. I am extremely grateful for this club because it pushed me into the direction towards my B.A. at UC Irvine.
UC Irvine was a totally different encounter from my community college experience. Honestly, it has its pro’s and con’s but just the simple fact that I had gotten as far as I did makes me appreciate the campus a lot more. My experience at UC Irvine turned phenomenally more fulfilling after I found the Underground Scholars of UC Irvine, I felt like I was at home again. Words cannot explain the feeling inside of me when I met the men and women that genuinely understand my struggles due to their own personal experiences. The Underground Scholars of UC Irvine helped me navigate a vision for my higher educational plans and blessed me with friendships that are difficult to find for formerly incarcerated students in America. Statistics show that the majority of people that come out of prison or jail return eventually while students that get an education show an opposite trend. This organization at UC Irvine has assured my vision and hopes for having a flourishing future waiting for me. I hope and wish that the Underground Scholars of UC Irvine stays everlasting for future anteaters to experience this gift.