When Daniel Torres was just two months old, his father was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His mother struggled to raise him and his two siblings on her own. From ages 13 to 18, Daniel was in and out of the juvenile justice system and group homes. Growing up in poverty with a lack of positive support, he would find himself incarcerated as an adult for the first time at 19.
For the next four years, Daniel spent most of his time incarcerated, struggling to find stable employment. “There were times I felt that I was destined to repeat the cycle of my parents and put my wife and kids through the same pain and struggles I went through.” Daniel recognized that he was caught in a cycle of violence, poverty and incarceration – the same cycle that traps thousands of individuals every year in California.
“When I got out in 2009, I was at a fork in the road. On one side was death and incarceration, and on the other side was the opportunity to change and build a life with my wife and two daughters. I knew I had to do something different.” Daniel said.
But there was a problem. “As I began looking for work, door after door was slammed in my face because of my background. Nothing is worse than wanting to provide for my family and being denied the opportunity.”
A friend referred Daniel to Pasadena-based nonprofit Flintridge Center’s Apprenticeship Preparation Program (APP). The APP, a 10-week 240-hour personal development program, works with formerly incarcerated and gang-impacted individuals to secure sustainable employment in union construction careers.
A decade ago, union construction was one of the only fields open to employing formerly incarcerated individuals at a living wage.
Through the APP, Daniel found the training necessary to become a union Marble Mason earning $50,000 a year. For the first time, he was able to provide for his family. At Flintridge Center, he also found a community of individuals who were deeply committed to his success.
This was in large part due to Flintridge Center’s approach of helping individuals overcome all of the barriers to success they face. Trauma, lack of housing, criminal record, mental health, and financial assistance are all addressed through a network of community partners. Flintridge Center’s case management team, all with lived experience in the justice system, use a trauma-informed approach to develop a care plan and meet unique needs and goals.
Daniel made a commitment to himself and his family to break out of the cycle. Now, he is part of a team that works to do so for others. “I always say that I’m a client first. That experience continues to give me a unique perspective in developing programs and services to best serve our community members and work to ensure their success.”
For the past six years, Daniel has worked in nearly every capacity at Flintridge Center to support reentry and workforce development programming. Daniel emerged as a leader in the reentry workforce development field, often being asked to share his expertise on panels at state-wide conferences. He was also asked to help develop learning opportunities for similar organizations across California.
“The beginning of my story is not unique,” Daniel shared. “I was able to use the program to transform my life, and I want to see anybody who wants the opportunity have access to it.”
While the United States represents just 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. California leads these figures with over 160,000 people in our state, juvenile and federal facilities. With over 95 percent of these individuals expected to return home from incarceration, it is imperative that support is available to ensure their successful transition back into our communities.
Flintridge Center is working at multiple touchpoints to break the cycle of poverty, violence and incarceration in Pasadena and across LA County. In addition to their work with adults, they work with youth at high risk of falling into the justice system, as well as youth diverted to their services in lieu of arrest or incarceration to stop the cycle before it starts – a program Daniel says he wishes was around when he was younger.
“When you change the life of one person, you change the life of their families and the communities we all live in,” Daniel shared. “This is what we work to do every day at Flintridge.”
Daniel Torres is co-executive director of Flintridge Center, a Pasadena-based nonprofit that breaks the cycle of poverty and violence through community planning, innovation and action.