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Robert craves stability after jail time and ‘losing everything’

Robert craves stability after jail time and ‘losing everything’

When Robert’s parents divorced when he was 16, things started to change for the teenager. Robert had enjoyed an uneventful childhood, growing up in Santa Barbara, and then Lompoc, with his parents and two little sisters. His dad was in construction and his mom was a secretary.

But after the divorce, Robert came back to Santa Barbara with his dad so they could move in with his grandparents. “My sisters stayed with my mom,” he said. “It was difficult. It was hard being away from them, worrying if they were OK, even though I knew they were.”

At the same time, Robert dropped out of school. “I started working at a young age,” he said. “I was living under my grandma’s roof, but I felt like I needed to work to have money for other things. My dad raised me to work and take care of myself. I started running around with the wrong crowd. I was in a setting where my people, were gang related. I didn’t get too caught up in the gang lifestyle—I was just around those people—but I did find myself getting in trouble.”

At 20, Robert went to prison for the first time. He would be in and out for the next 13 years, although mostly for minor offenses and not reporting in on probation. “Once you’re stuck in the system, it’s hard to get out.”

In 2013, after 18 months in county jail, Robert was officially off parole and probation. He married his wife that year—they already had two daughters together, who are now 9 and 11. “When I got out, we stayed at her mom’s for a year and saved money, and then we moved out to Taft and found our first house together,” he said. “A couple years later, we upgraded to a bigger house. I worked for the Parks & Recreation Department and then the City of Taft. We had a third daughter and then a son. We were doing really good.”

But then, as Robert puts it, he lost everything he worked for. After Robert observed trespassers on his property stealing from him, he retrieved a weapon and says he chased them off the property. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, however, and was sent back to jail for two years. He currently has an appeal in process for being overcharged. “I never touched them. And because of that charge, I went from having everything to having nothing once again,” Robert said. “I just have to start over and move forward.”

Robert got to the Mission in November. “They really want to help here,” he said. “I just need to get stable again and get back on my feet. I just need to take little steps right now.” Robert has gone to Catholic and Christian churches throughout the years, so he appreciates the faith-based program. “This is such a good place, and such a positive environment,” he said. “The people here are actually trying to help you. They try to not put too much on you. You let them know your goals, let them know what you’re here for, and they’ll try to help the best way they can to accomplish those things.”