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May 08, 2017

Youth Voices—In Their Own Words

My experience at Cordero House was one of the most significant events to have happened to me. Let me start with a background of who I am. I came from a small village in the countryside of El Salvador. At a young age, I learned to be independent, going to school and helping with the daily chores. I moved to the city for a very brief moment before flying to the U.S.

At first, I felt strange and overwhelmed with everyone and everything around me. As time went by, I found myself in a state of confusion. Alone, I had no one to turn to ask for help. Instead, I did things that to this day I regret. Such events led to me spending time in a youth corrections facility.

Many individuals were concerned about my behavior. Let’s be honest! I was a monster hiding in a young boy’s body. Although no one dared call me that, I assumed people saw me that way. Looking back, I picture it like a roller coaster going at an extremely high velocity while under fire.

Eventually, my counselor referred me to the Cordero program where the director scheduled a screening for me. She assessed me to see if I were the right candidate for the program. She made two suggestions: I could either continue in a highly structured environment of a lockup facility or enter a transitional program at Janus. I chose Janus.

The Cordero program requires each youth to go through a process represented by a seven-level color system, signifying different phases of mastering emotional development. The color progression begins with red followed by orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and purple. Each new resident starts at the red level— the initiation of a journey—where one is classified as a risk to the community and oneself. The orange phase is when one begins to start changing one's behaviors and thinking process. Each level shapes and transforms a person into someone different. Not perfect, but one who can use his cognitive skills and abilities to build a better future and become a successful member of society.

In my experience, the hardest levels were the first four. I had a selfish and eccentric behavior, very antisocial, submissive and self-loathing. I suppressed emotions: anger reigned above them all. I associated many thinking errors with my anger, holding grudges. Everyone who knew me was concerned that I would eventually lash out and hurt people. I was a ticking time bomb! Such a heavy burden finally took its toll and culminated in me falling into a state of depression.

Just picture a dying star collapsing on itself before going supernova. I felt helpless, minute. I wanted to give up and throw in the towel. I did, in fact reach a breaking point. I had a panic attack after I made a sly remark towards a staff member. Guilt and shame paid me a visit. Regret and remorse showed up too. As time continued and I moved to the next levels, I began exhibiting a side I had never felt: empathy, accountability and respect kicked open the doors into my life and established a foothold. Giving up was not an option for me anymore; it was out of the equation. It was time to face my monsters.

After the grueling gauntlet of the first levels, the highest and most remarkable experience took place. The process of clarification. In my own words, it was time to make amends and be accountable for my past actions. Such a process was no easy task. Staff scrutinized and thoroughly analyzed me. Any hints of thinking errors or lack of empathy would resurface. After going through this self- examination and internal work, I was at the state where my honesty, empathy, accountability and integrity were my most prized attributes of my character. I had undergone a transformation from a criminal to a conquering hero. Many do not get a second chance to redeem themselves. After my successful completion of the program, I have become a better man. 

By Gerardo Granados, former Cordero House resident

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