Julio Medina and Diana Ortiz: Good is where you find it.
I shuffled into the Albany County courthouse, cuffed and shackled, to hear my sentence. My mom was there with my brothers and sisters. I was 25 at the time and the leader of a drug gang. The judge read my crimes: nine counts of conspiracy and various other offenses related to the hand grenades and cache of machine guns the police had found. While the judge read, I ignored the reporters and cameras—it was a big case—and everyone else in the courtroom and looked at my mom. I saw her turn to my brothers and sisters and ask, “Who the hell is this guy they’re talking about?” I still get chills remembering the look on her face when she finally figured out the guy they were talking about was me. I was sentenced to seven years to life.
But a person’s sense of “goodness” is often the result of a defining moment—and this was certainly a defining moment for Julio. He ended up in Sing Sing. Like most maximum security prisons, it’s filled with lifers, and violence is rampant.
When somebody’s going to be stabbed, you move out of the way. You don’t want to get any blood on you because if you do, you have two options: talk and then get killed by another inmate, or be put in the box for not talking. So when someone was stabbed, you didn’t react with concern for this other human being. Instead you might say, “Oh God, you got stabbed, and now the blood is on me, so now they’re going to question me. You asshole!” He’s bleeding to death, and you’re mad at him because the stabbing took place close to you.
One day, after I started going to the seminary, I was walking toward the chapel when up ahead of me a guy got stabbed really badly. Everybody just kept walking. “It ain’t none of your business,” someone said. Guys were jumping over the body and the pool of blood. When I got to the man he was bleeding out onto the floor and, I swear to God, I could not walk over that blood. It was like something was pushing me to look at this man, look at what was happening here. Guys were like, “Yo! Yo!” But I could not move. All I could do is say, “This shit has to stop.”
Julio made it out of prison, and, as he says, “then came the hard part.” But when getting a job proved excruciatingly difficult, he made a decision to help other former prisoners get jobs. Julio founded Exodus Transitional Community, which now has 500 former inmates coming through the program every year. Exodus teaches life skills so ex-cons (“my brothers and sisters”) can become productive members of society and don’t end up back in prison. Exodus helps former inmates find and keep a job to support themselves, restore their dignity, and avoid resorting to crime—to adjust to being fathers and sons, husbands and wives, good friends and neighbors on the outside.
I’m a sports guy. I’m always looking for key acquisitions. Who can I get that can really help Exodus grow. And Diana was my LeBron James. She is the embodiment of what I want Exodus to be. Strong, tough, yet forgiving.
The video of Diana was inspired by the New York Times story, “Convicted of Murder as a Teenager and Paroled at 41.”
If the discussion here at the Good Men Project is around goodness, people like Julio and Diana are always welcome.
A related story about redemption, Tom Matlack’s interview with Abrigal Forrester, who spent ten years in prison on mandatory drug charges, is here.
Julio Medina’s story, “Blood Spattered,” is one of the 31 stories of defining moments in men’s lives from the book The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the the Good Men Project first began.