Severino Martinez shows that a life can change before it’s too late
The story of Severino Martinez has been making the rounds through Pueblo, providing inspiration to those who want to leave a dark past behind them or help others trying to do the same.
In May, the 35-year-old Martinez graduated from Pueblo Community College with his associate’s degree proudly in tow. A nominal feat by any standard, but for Martinez it was that and more as his past had led him down a path of prison and, nearly, death.
As a member of the Surenos, a Mexican gang with strong ties to Pueblo, Martinez sold marijuana and committed other gang-related crimes. Prior to being caught with 20-pounds of marijuana and being charged with intent to distribute, Martinez almost lost his life at the hands of two of his “homeboys.” An altercation between the three turned into a stabbing, which saw Martinez suffer multiple wounds in his back, neck and stomach, the latter of which was nearly fatal.
Though that moment could have served as a breaking point for the then 18-year-old gang member, Martinez continued as a member of the Surenos. While serving his parole from the possession and intent to distribute charges, Martinez was picked up again for aggravated assault and dealt a five-year sentence.
It was during that time locked up that he earned his GED and began to alter the course of his life. One of the main providers of that change was the HOPE Bridge Program that allowed Martinez to become a full-time student at PCC. The community college has 13 correctional facilities within its service area. With the recidivism rate in Colorado at 53.2 percent, data collected through the HOPE Bridge Program indicates that education is one of the foremost factors in addressing recidivism and successfully transitioning former offenders into the community.
Such was the case for Martinez who, alongside the HOPE Bridge Program, also got involved in a federally-funded program called TRiO, which is designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Severino was one of the lucky ones,” said Antonio “Tony” Buzan, 44, who works with at-risk youth in El Paso county. “I don’t mean that in a negative way. He was fortunate he didn’t die or end up with another sentence tacked on to a previous sentence. But he put in the necessary work, got involved with the right kind of people after being involved for years with the wrong kind of people and it has paid off for him.”
Much like Martinez, Buzan, came from a gang-related background. Both of his brothers were involved with street gangs in his hometown of Chula Vista, Calif. One of them was not “fortunate” and lost his life at the hands of a rival gang.
“I learned at a young age that gangs ruin lives, they don’t save them,” Buzan said. “I wanted to be just like my brothers, but when my oldest brother Terry died at 18 and I was 11, I realized that life was not just not for me. That life isn’t for anyone. I was one of the lucky ones, too.”
After getting his degree in Communications from California State University-Long Beach, Buzan decided to take his gift of mentoring through public speaking to at-risk teens in danger of falling into the gang lifestyle. He has seen stories like Martinez’ in the past and hopes the 35-year-old can keep moving forward.
“I hope he keeps it going and returns the favor to those in similar situations,” he said.
With the tassel now turned on his graduation cap, Martinez said he plans to enroll at Colorado State University-Pueblo where he will major in the school’s fine arts program with an eye on creating his own photography and graphic design business someday.