Angel Sanchez received his GED underneath the slit in the door of his solitary confinement cell after being tried as an adult and receiving a prison sentence for gang-related violence when he was 16. Now, as a Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholar and Graduate Scholar, he’s a student at the University of Miami School of Law.
Raised by a single father in a violent, drug-stricken area of Miami with lots of gang activity, Angel’s dad always pushed him to get good grades and strive to earn an education. Despite his father’s influence, Angel made friends with gang members and developed a reputation on the street.
“Peers are more important than parents when you’re an adolescent. I’ve always had a big guilt trip about that, but it’s very normal.”
During his 12 years in prison, Angel worked in the prison’s law library and developed a passion for helping inmates with their cases and studying criminal justice. With a new goal of becoming a lawyer, he decided to go back to school.
“My dad barely could read and write. I think that’s one of the reasons he valued education so much – because he didn’t have one, and he just wished that I would get one.”
After serving his sentence, Angel enrolled at a community college in Florida and was selected as a Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholar while also being under his 10-year probation period. While he was determined and ready to throw himself into receiving a quality education, his probationary status proved to be an obstacle that many universities were unwilling to overlook.
After getting himself in front of a judge with the help of a state attorney, he explained that although he had received an amazing scholarship opportunity, he was unable to use it because of the probation. The judge, after hearing Angel’s journey and the decisions and sacrifices he had to make to change his life, decided to terminate his probation so he could attend the University of Central Florida and use the scholarship.
Angel’s accomplishments prove that working hard and thinking big, regardless of the past, truly do create meaningful results.
“I think what makes the difference between a successful – I don’t want to say an individual, but successful moments – come by perspective,” Angel said about his achievements. “If you look at it as a teachable moment, a learning opportunity, you can take that stumbling block and turn it into an elevating stone where it takes you to the next level.”
Watch Angel’s Keynote Speech from the 2022 annual Scholars Weekend conference in Washington, D.C. here.