REFORMED: How a Life Sentence Became My Saving Grace

REFORMED: How a Life Sentence Became My Saving Grace

by Amanda Warner, Jojo Godinez

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781642370874
Publisher: Price World Publishing
Publication date: 06/26/2018
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 302,860
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

Amanda Warner spent several years volunteering in juvenile hall where she encountered the brokenness of the criminal justice system. She graduated from Biola University in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and has worked as a reporter, copy editor, and copywriter, unearthing stories that would otherwise go unheard. When she's not writing or editing, she loves hiking the Southern California mountains. You can visit her online at amandamwarner.com.

Jojo Godinez lives in Los Angeles County with his wife, Dalia, and their four children. Jojo was sentenced to 45 years to life in prison at age 18 but was freed at age 30. Since his release, he's spoken in many prisons and churches, sharing what God has done in his life. From carrying around AK-47s as a 13-year-old to praying for people in the middle of a prison yard, Jojo has truly experienced God's transforming grace.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

JOJO

1988

"We're not going to hit you too hard."

Diablo's laughter was the last thing I heard before the gang descended on me, showering my stomach and head with hit after hit. I grabbed hold of someone's shirt, trying to fight back. I spun around, looking to hit someone else. I swung my body, my arms, my fists.

I couldn't see anything — I didn't know who I was hitting or who was hitting me. It was a lose-lose situation, but I had to keep trying. I was knocked down a couple times, but I knew I couldn't stay down. That was a sign of weakness.

The neighborhood didn't want weak.

In the dozens of initiations I'd witnessed, I'd seen guys who didn't fight back, only shielded their body from the violence. When their two minutes were up, the gang didn't want them anymore. I was just as disgusted. When my time came, I knew I would never cower.

So blindly, I kept swinging until two minutes passed and Diablo called stop. I could never win; it wasn't designed for that.

"See homie, you're from the neighborhood now. You're from Cadbrook."

Someone pulled me up, another had nabbed a rag to clean up my bloody lip, while another handed me a beer. I usually wasn't a drinker, but my adrenaline was pumping and I needed something to calm me down. I took it and chugged.

"From now on, fool, you should be called Boxer," Diablo told me. "You're not just going to be Jojo from Puente no more, you're going to be Boxer from Cadbrook."

I earned the name because of my reputation as a fighter. My dad had fought in Vietnam as a Marine; he'd seen warfare, exploding bombs, and torn limbs. He reared me to be a fighter, too, always hitting me, scolding me, pushing me to be better. At 15, I was too young for the military, but I'd become a soldier. Just not the one my dad had envisioned.

Since childhood, I was known to jump into gang fights, swiping out the knife from my back pocket to swing at enemies from across town. That knife became a handgun and then an AK-47 before I hit my teens. I was loyal to my city, La Puente, and now to the neighborhood clique, Cadbrook Street.

No one living inside the apartment complex behind us bothered to interrupt the beating. My life had been sold in the space of two minutes. I gave it willingly.

The others returned to their abandoned beer bottles and cigarettes, giving me some space as the sky turned black. The night was a graduation of sorts. The gang trusted me to represent Cadbrook, and I swore to never dishonor them. I knew doing so would come at a cost. Death awaited any of us who chose to leave.

It wasn't until the next day when the adrenaline wore off that I felt the pain of the beating. My head ached, my ear was purple, my eyes were red, and black bruises emerged, covering my back.

They were scars I was proud of, scars I thanked my homies for letting me have.

CHAPTER 2

JOJO

1989

The violence was endless, and my enemies haunted me. They lived around the corner, drove past me on the street, ate at the same restaurants. It was a strange thing that guys I had never seen before now wanted me dead. Any day could be my last, but Cadbrook Street was my sanctuary.

One afternoon, the house on Cadbrook faded out of view as my homeboy Peewee drove toward enemy territory, winding through residential streets.

I rode shotgun. Peewee turned the volume up on the stereo so that the music and poetry of N.W.A. spilled out of the car windows. The words I knew all too well because I lived and breathed them. And because Peewee always inserted that same cassette tape into every car he stole. This red truck was taken days ago, and I had an ominous feeling cops had been looking for it a little too long.

Peewee only stopped the truck once — to pick up two girls in tight jeans who were waiting in the high school parking lot. They piled into the backseat with Danger, a new recruit to the gang who had lived in La Puente for only a few years. I always wondered how much I could depend on someone I hadn't known my entire life.

In the backseat, Danger flirted with the girls, but Peewee's focus was on the streets. His head nodded to the beat of the music, as if in silent compliance to the lyrics. I mouthed them, too, as Ice Cube rapped about guns and homicide.

I was 4 years old the first time I heard gunshots hitting the side of my house. They'd been shot at my bedroom window with more fervor ever since I turned 12. I was used to people trying to kill me.

When I was 10, my neighbor's older brothers handed me and my friends our first handgun. We hid it in the bushes and pulled it out when guys from other streets walked into our neighborhood looking for a fight. Someone would yell, "Get the gun!" We'd wave it around and shoot a warning shot in the air to scare them away.

It made us feel strong, bold, invincible.

It still had that same effect.

Talking over the music, Peewee said that a couple days ago he and some other guys chased a group of enemy gang members walking home from school.

"Is that right?" I asked. "Where at?"

"They were running down this street right here," Peewee said, pointing as he turned the truck's steering wheel. "They ran into a house with the garage door open."

Peewee looked as if he'd been plotting a counterattack for a while. All the bullets that had flown by us were coming to mind. They were spurring us on, feeding our anger.

Peewee pointed at the house. It was a typical single-story home with a well-manicured lawn, a home like the ones in my middle-class neighborhood. The garage door was again open. Tools and cinder blocks cluttered the driveway. The men out front looked like me, my age, my clothes, my skin color. But they were different. Just because they were enemies.

"There they are," Peewee said. "Right there!"

As Peewee drove by, I rolled down the window, threw up our gang's hand sign, and shouted, "Puente!" The men looked up and grabbed whatever was nearest them — shovels, bricks — and pursued our red truck.

Peewee didn't drive any faster. He eased on the gas pedal, letting the truck tauntingly roll down the street, its red color like a target. One of the bricks nearly hit us.

"Get the gun," Danger said, pushing his body between the front seats, pointing at the dashboard. "It's in the glove compartment."

I pulled the handle and saw the magnum .357 revolver nestled amid the previous owner's junk. I grabbed it as Danger chanted from the backseat, "Blast 'em, blast 'em!"

Danger could have easily hopped out of the truck's back door and made the shots, but he was egging me on with such ferocity, like he wanted to see blood, but he didn't want to be the one to spill it.

When Peewee braked at the end of the street, I opened the door and stepped out, waving the gun, motioning at the men.

"Come here. Come closer," I teased.

One of the guys threw a brick; it landed a few feet away from my sneakers.

For a moment I lingered, just to muster up enough anger to shoot. From the truck I could hear Peewee and Danger yelling for me to fire. If I chickened out, turned back, and asked Peewee to drive away, I'd be asking for a death sentence.

"Shoot 'em, shoot 'em!"

I had been handed the gun, trusted, honored.

Better them dead than me.

I fired the first shot, aiming for one of the guys. These were my enemies. They would kill my friends, my family. I pulled the trigger again. Seeing the gun and hearing the shots, the men retreated, ducking into the garage, running from the sound of the bullets.

I fired again, focusing on the running targets, but they were moving so fast I didn't know if the bullet would catch them. I imagined it would. I imagined it'd hit them and they'd tumble to the ground, bloodying the street. Just like they had killed my neighbor on the concrete in front of my house, just like they had killed Black Bird and Polo and Flash.

The last three shots emptied the gun.

"Cadbrook Street!" I yelled.

I slid back into the front seat and slammed the car door. I didn't know if I shot anyone, but I didn't care.

"Jam, jam, jam," I panted as I fumbled with the gun — like hot coal in my hands but my fingerprints were all over it now.

Peewee slammed on the gas pedal, and the tires skidded on the asphalt, screeching so loud that if the neighbors hadn't heard the gunshots, they'd definitely hear us now. Without a seatbelt, I was yanked side to side as Peewee weaved in between traffic, running yellow lights and stop signs, driving fast enough to escape our rivals but slow enough to avoid attention from the cops.

Hearing sniffling from the back seat, I turned to see one of the girls crying and wiping her face with her hand, the other staring out the window, silently.

"Shut up," I told them.

Just minutes before they had been laughing, talking, flirting — I couldn't stand to hear them crying.

I turned my attention back to Peewee, telling him which backstreets to take to avoid main streets and cops and reach my house on the Eastside. When it finally came into view, I told him, "Take the truck to a ditch and blow it up with gasoline."

Every stolen car went through the same ritual because it erased all traces. Now more was on the line than a grand theft auto charge. If we weren't careful, we could be put away for life, especially if the bullets had hit our rivals. I hoped Peewee saw the danger.

"Take care of everything," I said as I slammed the truck door.

I watched the truck drive off, hoping I'd never see it again.

It was midafternoon, so my home was vacant. Better that I didn't have to explain to my parents what I'd just done. I threw my clothes in the washing machine and walked into the bathroom, turning the shower knob. I needed to get clean.

As the hot water splashed over my body, I lathered soap in my hands, scrubbing harder than I ever had, hoping that could wipe out the past hour. I knew I had made a mistake, not by firing the gun, but by firing it in broad daylight and in front of two girls who weren't a part of our neighborhood. I knew better. It was too easy to be caught. Avoiding prison time was like a game — and thinking about it now, I'd just made a fatal move.

I thought through all the possible ways I could get arrested, and the biggest threat was those two girls. Once Peewee came back from trashing the truck, I had to find the girls again and make sure they would never tell.

Stepping out of the bathtub, I toweled off, walked to my closet, and put on an outfit starkly different from my last one. I needed to return to Cadbrook Street.

Rushing, it took me nearly 40 minutes to pedal my bike to Peewee's garage.

I could hear the sounds of rap music pouring from the boom box before I caught sight of the house. Inside, there were dozens more people now, the stench of cologne and clouds of smoke irritated my eyes. I adjusted. Couples had retreated to private corners. I didn't pay attention to the girls.

"Hey, where's Peewee? Where's Danger?" I asked, looking at Peewee's brother Joker and to the five other homeboys who were standing around, talking. I expected Peewee to be home by now. What could be keeping him away?

"I don't know," they all replied, some shrugging their shoulders, others shaking their heads.

"We ain't seen 'em since earlier when you guys all jammed. What happened? Where did you guys go earlier?" my homie Alf asked.

It was dangerous for me to divulge details. The less people who knew about our crime, the less people the cops could question.

"Something happened over there across town," I simply said. "Just be posted up. Be ready in case they come back to retaliate."

Some of the homies were keeping watch on the street, eyeing every car that passed by, looking for threats; but most were clowning around, drinking. I tried to relax, too, but I was tense, checking my pager every few seconds, pacing around the garage, never turning my back to the street. Soon, sirens wailed in the distance, growing louder before cop cars zoomed past our street, one after another.

"Dang, something happened," Alf said, ordering two of the homies to run down to the corner to see which direction they turned.

A few moments later, one of them confirmed that the cops had turned right — headed toward the house I had just shot up. I hoped Peewee had taken the girls home and was far away from the crime scene by now.

The sheriff's station was around the corner, sending cop cars down Cadbrook often, driving slow, waiting, watching. Whenever the station would get calls about "shots fired" on Cadbrook, the cops would come, scanning the street for bullet shells, looking for blood. By then the shooters would be gone, because behind the row of houses just beyond the backyards was a fenced-in sewer drain wide enough to fit a car. It ran all across town, and we called it The Wash. It's where all the guys went to disappear.

Within the hour, that's exactly where Peewee emerged from, out of breath and exhausted as he stumbled inside the garage. I wondered how far he had to run to escape the cops — one mile, two, five?

After dropping me off, Peewee said they continued cruising around; he'd turned up N.W.A. even louder, and it was still playing when cop cars started trailing them. Speeding up, Peewee said he drove wildly before he finally crashed. Peewee ran. The others couldn't.

"Danger got caught, man," Peewee panted. "Danger and the two girls got caught in the truck."

With Danger and the girls arrested, Peewee and I weren't safe from being arrested ourselves. Could this guy, new to Cadbrook, new to Puente, endure interrogation and face his punishment alone? Or would he take us down along with him?

And these girls — they weren't gang members, they weren't from Cadbrook — they had no reason whatsoever to cover for Peewee and me. Really, it was just a matter of how long it would take the cops to break them.

I didn't waste any more time in that garage. Peewee was already home, and I needed to get to my own. I rode my bike quickly across town, my ears attuned to any sirens nearby, my eyes scanning for the worse threat. When I entered my front door, my mom had her feet up on the couch, resting from her eight-hour work day at the warehouse.

I didn't look her in the eye; my focus was on my room. There, I grabbed a backpack and filled it with clothes, shoes, and the stash of bills, nearly $2,000, that I'd acquired from drug dealing. Just days ago, my homies and I had used my kitchen as a drug lab, bagging up cocaine when my parents were at work. I didn't need the money and only spent it on clothes and food, but there was something about the thrill of the sale and the power of having more money at my disposal than any average high school student. My parents didn't know half the things I did.

I planned to stay at my older sister's place a couple towns away until it was safe to return. Because of my previous stints in juvenile hall, my contact information, criminal record, and gang involvement were on file at the sheriff's station. But, cops didn't have my older sister Pat's address, and I assumed my own parents wouldn't give me up. I would call from a payphone to warn her I was coming. I knew she wouldn't mind.

Slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I left my room. My mom stared at me as the television blared in the background; worry was written across her face. She knew her son.

"Mom, I'm going to have to leave for a little bit."

"What did you do? What did you do?" she cried, standing up in the middle of the living room, watching me step toward the door.

"Nothing, mom. Don't even trip. Don't even worry about it. I'm out of here. I'll call you as soon as I can."

I left quickly. My mom yelled after me, but I couldn't make out the words once I slammed the front door.

I abandoned school, hiding in my sister's house like a shut-in, afraid that at any moment cops would find me. I made calls to my girlfriend but refused to tell her my hideout. I also called my homies on Cadbrook, asking about what happened since the drive-by shooting. Were the girls let go? Was Peewee ever arrested?

A few weeks passed with some good news: No one was struck by one of the bullets I fired, so I couldn't get busted for murder. But with my Cadbrook affiliation and the crackdown on gangs, who knew how much extra time they'd pile on. The girls were sent home shortly after their arrest, and they insisted they didn't say anything. Maybe it had all blown over. Maybe it was safe to go home.

Not that I missed it.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Reformed: How a Life Sentence Became My Saving Grace"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jojo Godinez and Amanda Warner.
Excerpted by permission of Gatekeeper Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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REFORMED: How a Life Sentence Became My Saving Grace 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous 12 months ago
This book had me enthralled from the first page. Its characters are deep and rich, moving you to think in new ways about love and life and choices and God. There is authenticity on each page. Loved reading this book!
VVazquez 12 months ago
Reformed is a book that will make you think differently about the lives of gang members and inmates. The story brings to light the real struggles of life on the street and behind bars. You will be uplifted and saddened at the same time. It is an amazing story of redemption and change. I’d recommend this book to struggling young people as well as to anyone who has a heart for at-risk youth.