The Interview

Cecilia interviews Jose Armendariz, a man incarcerated at the age of 16. From child to a man, Jose has turned his life around.

His testimony

My name is Jose Armendariz. I am a 30-year-old Mexican and Salvadoran-American man. I have been incarcerated since the age of 16. At 16, I was tried as an adult and sentenced to 80 years to life.

While incarcerated, I have come to embrace what the late Congressman John Lewis called “good trouble.” As I have grown older, I have come to realize that simply expressing my beliefs in social justice does not create change. This motivated me to become a student, writer, and organizer. Whether it cost me my liberty or my life, I will always stand up against injustice.

I earned a paralegal certificate while behind bars. I received material in the mail, studied, and completed self-guided coursework. After earning my certificate, I helped an undocumented incarcerated person who was facing deportation apply for asylum. In 2020, I became an inside organizer with Transforming Justice Orange County (TJOC) and started working at the ACLU SoCal.

My work has included reporting conditions of confinement issues, advocating on my behalf and that of others in custody, opposing jail expansion and backwards criminal justice propositions, and voter education and registration behind bars. As an inside organizer, I have provided recommendations about the direction of campaigns and shared information with other incarcerated people.

My written and audio work has been used to provide public comment at Board of Supervisor and Board of State and Community Corrections meetings to advance demands that center on the wellbeing and needs of people behind bars. My op-eds have been published by the Voice of OC, JURIST, and Chispa, and my experiences have been written about in La Opinion, Cal Matters, and LAist. I also regularly participate in community webinars and panels and share my experiences with students, organizers, and advocates. My lived experience, commitment to racial and social justice, and interpersonal skills have allowed me to make valuable contributions to policy campaigns in OC and beyond.

In 2020, I participated in TJOC’s Reimagine Justice in OC workshop series. I was a guest speaker in two workshops. In the same year, I also supported ACLU SoCal’s voter education and registration program called Unlock the Vote. I educated other incarcerated people about voting rights and helped eligible people fill out registration applications. This year, I was a speaker for the California Correctional Crisis: Mass Incarceration, Healthcare, and the COVID-19 Outbreak Symposium organized by UC Hastings Law School. Throughout these experiences, I have developed leadership and discipline which has allowed me to support other incarcerated people in resolving conflict and raising grievances.

Upon my release, I would like to pursue a degree in journalism or creative writing to expose the inhumanity of jails and prisons and uplift the experiences of incarcerated people to inform policy, legislative and organizing work.

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