Manny Flores knows that they are coming to kill him.
He’s the leader of one of the most powerful jail factions in California, but someone else wants his job.
It is not in his plans to sit still while they conspire against him. So come on ahead grabs his executioner and stabs him 18 times.
Flores is serving a 20-year prison sentence, but is convinced that after stabbing his enemy They will give him a life sentence.
“I thought I would never see my parents again,” he says.
“Thank God,” adds this Californian of Latino parents, the man who was stabbed survived and was never formally accused.
It was as if fate gave him another chance. So Flores closed her first life: the gang member, criminal and dangerous.
Today is another man.
Twenty-seven years after entering one of the most dangerous prisons in California for his gang activities, Flores gives back to his community I eat well all the evil of the past.
He is currently the director of the North Valley Caring Services (NVCS), a non-profit organization that feeds, supports, educates and protects thousands of homeless families in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County.
Because behind the facade of Silicon Valley, the glamor of Hollywood, the surf beaches, the sun and the wealth, Flores assures that the risk from begging is out of control in this state of the most powerful country in the world.
“I don’t know if I can ever repair all the damage I did to my community, but as far as I can, I want to work hard, be honest and dedicate my life to good,” he says.
Flores’ work is an example of improvement and conversion for his entire community.
A not easy path that, today with 50 years, shares with BBC Mundo.
Help for the homeless
The San Fernando Valley is located in northern Los Angeles County.
This area, home to giant corporations such as Walt Disney and Warner Bros, also blames the serious begging crisis that plagues all of Los Angeles and the state of California.
“The truth is that the cost of living is out of control. That is pushing a lot of people to beg, “says Flores.
According to the latest annual report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, from 2019 to 2020 the number of “homeless” in Los Angeles County amounted to 66,433, one of the worst records in the country.
“LThe majority who need help are middle-income families. They are the ones who are having the worst time right now, the most fragile. “
Among those tens of thousands are many of those whom Flores has proposed to give back to them every day as good for the evil he claims to have done to them in the past.
“We feed a total of 4,500 families each week. From our agency we serve about 1,500. Then, through churches and distribution centers, we complete the figure.”
“I did a lot of damage to my city, Los Angeles. It is my duty to serve and use everything bad that I experienced for good.”
Flores from before prison is very different from the person I speak to on the phone.
I know You notice him moved every time he mentions how bad he is going their community.
But more than two decades ago their motivations were very different.
“I don’t know how I was twisted. I was an only child and my house was never problematic or abusive.”
“I grew up in a family where they instilled in me principles of value, love, respect for others, property and the system.”
Like many Angelenos, Flores’s parents are Latino. His mother came from Cuba and his father from Mexico.
In the 1980s, in his teens, Flores began to “get dirty” with the gangs that roamed his neighborhood.
He says that bad influences changed him, that he adopted a different lifestyle.
In those years, Flores’ day to day was sell drugs, steal, extort, carry weapons, shoot them at rival gangs.
And he was not just any gang member.
“I was a high-ranking character. They counted on me for the logistics of the gang. I moved money, manipulated people and recruited young people.”
At 22, Flores had already been involved in multiple stabbings and shootings.
At 23, however, he set out to lead a more peaceful lifestyle. Got married He had two sons.
But everything went wrong again.
“They tried to assassinate me and I went to collect them. I looked for those who shot me, I shot them and hit a person “.
It was Flores’ last criminal journey on the street. The police caught him and the justice imposed 20 years in prison for attempted murder.
Life in prison
Flores was sent to one of the most violent prisons in the state.
As in gang life, in California prisons the law of the fittest rules. A power game in which this 23-year-old did not want to be left behind.
“I was associated in prison with the Mexican mafia, but there were other factions, such as African Americans, white Americans, skinheads or those of the Aryan Nation.”
Inside the Mexican mafia, Flores re-establishes himself as leader.
He was in charge of about 200 men inside the penitentiary. Decide prison policies, who they fight with, what drugs go in. It supervises everything.
“Someone wanted my position and they sent him to stab me. They told me it would happen, but I couldn’t let it happen. I had to teach that I was a man and that I fix my problems by myself.”
Then Flores went and stabbed the person who wanted to attack him 18 times.
“I thought they would give me life in prison, but the guy survived and never charged me. It is very rare that this happens“.
In the middle of the sentence, the authorities sent Flores to an isolated cell, to where the most dangerous go.
“They controlled me 24 hours a day. I didn’t see the sun, I had no visitors, no contacts or access to the telephone. People there go crazy.”
But loneliness, isolation and “an encounter with God” changed Flores. He had time to think.
He understands that his mistakes and crimes of the past respond to a low self-esteem, to a need to be accepted through imposing fear and respect.
“It was the first time that I was honest with myself. Many of the things I did were out of fear and not because he was the bravest. It’s funny, because the same has happened to others in the same situation. “
Flores took advantage of the isolation to study, train, and prepare for a new life outside of prison.
When Flores gets out of jail in 2014, he starts knocking on doors.
One of the first was those of the church that helped him in his conversion in prison.
“They did not accept me. They were afraid of my past. They thought that maybe my conversion was not real and that it could hurt them. They gave me to understand to look for another church.”
Flores lived in the first person the difficulties that an ex-convict may go through to reintegrate into society.
“When I was in prison, everyone asked me to change. But when I changed and left, you realize many things. People, your family, your community, your church, they want you to change, but when they have to give you a chance they things are very different. “
“It is difficult to find opportunities for people like me. With a background it is very difficult to have a meaningful job“.
That’s when the small organization North Valley Caring Services (NVCS) came his way.
The director at that time had a friend in common with Flores. They gave him an interview and then offered him a job.
Five years later, Flores was appointed director after implementing a food program that little by little began to impact the lives of many.
“I’m very grateful. I didn’t have any experience, just my prison education and what I learned on the street.”
Much more than a food bank
Delivering food is just one of the programs currently run by the NVCS under the direction of Flores.
They provide parking for families living in their cars, offer security, food, shower.
They also assist those who live in train stations.
The center also educates children and teaches them to use computers and surf the internet.
“Many families who come to the country do not know how to use computers and cannot help their children with homework. So we set up a salon where we offer help“.
The NVCS also teaches entrepreneurship skills for individuals. It encourages the creation of micro-businesses and instills business concepts.
Then he finds them a place where they can sell their items and keep 100% of the profits.
“Several people have gotten good contracts and are now on another economic level. Through our programs, we have managed to impact 20% of the people in the San Fernando area“.
“Our goal is to create a collective and cooperative system where we achieve that the community understands the strength it has when we work together,” says Flores.
Personal and family satisfaction
Flores has remarried. His current wife is the first woman he says he was completely honest with.
“I explained my circumstances to him and introduced myself as I am. He accepted me with everything.”
Flores thanks God and life for having had the opportunity to mend his path.
He is excited that his mom and dad have been able to see the change in your life and everything he does for his community.
“My dad passed away a month ago, but I was privileged to see myself reflecting all the teachings he instilled in me. I don’t know if what I do can repair the damage I did, but I will work very hard to try.”
Flores would like to see more models from organizations like NVCS, which with a limited budget is making a big change in the neighborhood.
“They have already invited us to open more agencies in two nearby cities. We are very close to achieving it“, he says excitedly.
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