As a 14-year-old messing around with a tagging crew, Florentino didn’t expect to get caught—or receive a steep one-year sentence. “I experienced a lot there—violence, fear,” he said. “It was a pretty scary place to go at the time.”
Florentino got into trouble often, lengthening his sentence time and time again. By the time he was released, Florentino had spent nearly four years incarcerated. Upon his release at 18, Florentino met a girl, and the couple became pregnant. But before the birth of his baby girl, he was arrested again. The crime: carjacking. The sentence: two years—this time in prison.
Over the next few years, Florentino worked as a tattoo artist and saw his family grow—he and his girlfriend now have two girls, 7 and 2—but was in and out of jail on domestic issues and parole violations. Things improved when Florentino got a “regular job” two years ago, first washing dishes and then cooking. But his drinking continued, and Florentino’s girlfriend asked him to leave. “She just wanted me to get help. I saw it as her wanting to get rid of me. It just really hurt.”
Florentino was staying at a tattoo shop, when a few months ago, police and SWAT teams stormed in on a raid, finding weapons and drugs inside. “It just felt like a bad dream,” he said. As a felon, Florentino knew he would be going away for a long time if he was charged. “In that moment, I said, ‘God, please get me out of this situation and I will change my life.’ I was talking to the police; I was crying. I told them the whole situation, why I was living there, how I was arguing with my girlfriend. … The officer said ‘I believe you.’”
Florentino intended to keep his word and entered the mission. “I spent all those years at (the youth correctional facility), and when I finally did get out into society, I just lived like I was making up for lost time. I feel like I missed so many years of my life, now I need to be living like I’m going to die tomorrow. I pray every day that I can stop acting and thinking like that. I’m just looking forward to what God has in store for me.”