HANFORD — Patricia Martinez is a two-striker who committed her first drive-by shooting at age 11. But she wants everyone to know not all kids have to turn out this way.
Today, she works with Champions Recovery Alternative Programs, helping young women make the transition away from drugs and gangs.
“Now I give back to those who are in the same situation I was in,” she said.
Her goal isn’t just to help kids after the fact, though. She wants to stamp out the problem before it takes root.
So, later this month, she’s teaming up with another former gang member to hold a workshop for parents.
The topics: fatherhood and motherhood, and the roles they play in a child’s life.
“Parenthood doesn’t stop when we go to work,” said Val Ferrel, Martinez’s co-host. “Parenthood doesn’t stop after a 16-hour day. We have to be a good example to our children 24 hours a day. What we teach our kids is what they carry with them.”
Their workshop is one of many being held during Kings Partnership for Prevention’s “How are the Kids” event at Koinonia Christian Fellowship on April 29. The event aims to educate the community about the many issues today’s children face.
Topics will cover a broad spectrum with the ultimate goal of raising awareness among parents and community members, coordinator Pauline Hershey said.
The workshop by Martinez and Ferrel, which focuses on how gangs are influencing children, will also feature presentations by Sheriff Dave Robinson and Chief Probation Officer Steve Brum.
“Parents need to play an important role in their children’s lives,” Martinez said. “Most men who join gangs don’t have a role model, a father, to look up to. So they turn to the street, which empowers them.”
She knows firsthand what can happen to kids who grow up without a strong role model.
Her mother was an addict, so she lived with her disabled grandmother. Every chance she got, she snuck away to her father’s house to spend time with her 14 brothers, who were all gang members and associates.
“I was fascinated by it,” she said. “I was young, scared to the bone of everything. But that lifestyle gave me an adrenaline rush. The women in the gang had power and I clung to them, because I didn’t want to be afraid anymore.”
Originally from San Jose, Martinez came to Kings County to escape a criminal warrant. It didn’t work. She got caught forging checks, ran from the cops, led them on a high-speed pursuit and did two years in Pleasant Valley State Prison.
When she got out, she enrolled in Champions, mostly to as an excuse to keep the law off her back. She ended up completing every program they had to offer. She accepted Christ into her life. Eventually, the program director hired her on as an intern.
She isn’t afraid to tell her story. She repeats it every Monday to newcomers at Champions’ orientation. Her past, coupled with her no-nonsense approach, helps build bridges to people in similar situations.
Her hope is that she can do the same with parents.
“We want to educate them about what they can do to divert these situations before they go too far,” Martinez said. “If you allow your kids to play with fire, then they’re going to get burned.”
Ferrel, an adolescent counselor for WestCare, a family of nonprofit organizations, plans to emphasize the importance of holding parents accountable — an approach that is sure to “step on some toes.”
“Kids are a reflection of their parents,” he said. “If we are yelling, if we are being aggressive, if we are manipulating each other, then our children will mimic our actions. If we don’t step up, they will find someone else. It’s that simple.”
Ferrel, like Martinez, joined a gang at a young age. His parents were busy, so his friends became his family. They struggled together, causing trouble and getting high.
“They tell you that you are fighting for a cause, for the betterment of your people,” Martinez said. “They indoctrinate you to believe that the other side looks down on you, even though we are all the same blood. It’s all a lie. But it is convincing, especially when you’re young and angry.”
The event will be held April 29 at Koinonia Christian Fellowship’s learning center on Hanford-Armona Road. It goes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Attendees must register online at kingscountykids2013.eventbrite.com or by calling 816-7063. Tickets are $27.50 for the general public, with discounts available for foster families, teen parents and professionals who partner with Kings Partnership for Prevention.
“If we touch at least one person’s heart, then we’ve been successful,” Ferrel said.
The reporter can be reached at 583-2425 or by email at jjohnson@HanfordSentinel.com.