VIDEO: She Went From Four Years in Prison to Earning a Four-Year Degree

Meet Lily Gonzalez. At the age of 25, the South Central Los Angeles resident was convicted of a non-violent offense for a crime she committed at the age of 18. She was sentenced to four years in prison. It became a pivotal time in her life. After serving her time, Lily re-entered society only to find that she didn't have many options. The path before her was even more difficult than before she served her time.

WATCH: Lily Tells Her Story "We talk about giving students options, but if you don't know that it's an option, how can you make that decision?" asks Gonzalez. Lily eventually discovered Homeboy Industries, a program that would change the course of her life. Homeboy provides hope, training and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of the community. The program helped her get into Cal State Northridge, an accomplishment that once felt extremely farfetched. In May 2016, Lily would go on to become the first ever "Homegirl" to graduate from college, earning a bachelor's degree in Chicano/a studies. But even after completing her degree, she thought of a million reasons not to attend her own graduation ceremony. "Who’s going to even show up? I didn’t want to be reminded of what I did not have," wrote Gonzalez. But Lily isn't alone. It's a community-wide affect that almost cost her an opportunity to walk down the right path. "In my community, people didn't sit on the porch and talk about how they got into Harvard...Those weren't the conversations that were happening." Now Lily has dedicated her life to helping students just like her. The way she sees it, many students who fall through the cracks were never really given an opportunity in the first place. "We talk about giving people second chances, but I was never given a chance to begin with."
Photo of Lily Gonzalez.
Mike Orie