Profiles in Recovery

Jesse De La Cruz

The son of migrant farmworkers, De La Cruz has faced tough challenges throughout his life. His mother was just 13 years old when he was born, and the family struggled with poverty. Contracting polio as a child, De La Cruz spent many years confined to a hospital. As a teen, he got addicted to heroin and joined the street gangs of his Mexican-American barrio in California.

That path led De La Cruz to prison. For 30 years, he would be incarcerated, on and off, before having a profound awakening.

Leaving a homeless shelter one day, De La Cruz reflected on his life. “I lashed out at God asking Him why He was treating me so bad,” he recalls. “Immediately, I heard a voice respond gently that it was not Him who was treating me so bad. That it was me who was hurting me. That was my moment of clarity and I lifted my arms in surrender and asked for guidance.”

De La Cruz today is a different man. Now in his 22nd year of recovery, he holds a Doctorate in Education (his dissertation was a case study on Mexican American/Chicano gang members). De La Cruz facilitates gang awareness workshops in many schools, lectures at universities and has testified as an expert witness in hundreds of gang-related court cases nationwide. He is the author of “Detoured: My Journey from Darkness to Light.”

Day Job:
Judicial consultant/gang expert

What I lost to addiction:
My addiction not only cost me my freedom, it prevented me from having healthy relationships with others. I lost countless Christmases and birthdays without my family. I think my mother suffered way more than I did because she just didn’t understand how I could stick needles in my veins and constantly be in and out of prison. The good thing is that she did see me recover. The smile on her face when I would visit her is engraved in my mind to this day.

What worked for me:
I started my recovery in a 90-day residential treatment center with 12 months of after care. I began attending AA meetings on a daily basis because I wanted to learn how to live within the mainstream. I hung out with members of AA whom I thought were following the principles behind the 12 Steps. I prayed daily for myself and for others who were suffering more than I was.

I involved myself in positive extracurricular activities such as going to the movies with friends in recovery. I played my guitar to unwind and I enrolled in college. But it was the foundation I developed through AA that led me to God, which made it easier to unravel all the garbage I created in my life.

Rules I live by:
I am a member of the “no matter what club” which means I do not drink or use no matter what happens. I do not associate with people who are actively involved in using/drinking or criminal activity. I hang out with winners.

I write constantly and am raising three grand boys’ (whom I have adopted and am raising alone) ages six, three, and two. I work daily at being the best role-model I can be for them.

Best advice for newbies:
Write everyday if you can. Write about your past, about your day and what you plan for your future. You should also have a friend you can talk to about anything without being judged.

What I value most in recovery:
My freedom and my ability to wake up every morning without being sick and without desperation. I always keep in mind that I was one of the lucky ones to have overcome such terrible odds of ever recovering.

Stigma I faced:
My stigma was not necessarily connected to my addiction but to my incarcerations, which were a result of my addiction.

What I learned about myself:
I’ve learned that although I became a monster, I was not a terrible person. I am a loving, caring and loyal person capable of having feelings like anyone else.

Proudest moment:
Obtaining my doctorate degree

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If you’re a person in long-term recovery who wants to share your insights, please contact us at [email protected].