It was writing that sustained Mario Rocha during his 10 years in prison.
In 1996, when he was 16, Rocha was accused of opening fire at a party where a high school student was killed and a man was injured, according to the Los Angeles Times. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to 35 years to life in prison for murder and attempted murder.
Awaiting his trial for more than two years at Juvenile Hall, Rocha discovered his talent for writing.
Starting shortly after his arrest, a group of writers from the L.A. Times started InsideOUT Writers, a program developed as a way for writers â€“â€“ journalists, novelists and more â€“â€“ to help inmates at Central Juvenile Hall use writing as a tool for self-discovery.
â€œThe results were, and continue to be amazing,â€ said Duane Noriyuki, a CSU adjunct journalism professor and one of the L.A. Times writers who started InsideOUT Writers, about the program and Rochaâ€™s success.
Rocha was one of Noriyukiâ€™s first students.
Eventually released through the appeal process, Rocha continues to write and is the inspiration for the award-winning â€œMarioâ€™s Story,â€ a documentary entered in the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival and that ran on Showtime.
Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Lory Student Center Theater, Rocha will speak at a graduation ceremony for students who have earned their GEDs, primarily through 2Hearts4 Lacey. Wendy Cohen, whose daughter, Lacy Jo Miller, was murdered in 2003 by a man disguised as a police officer, founded the program.
Largely self-taught and having earned a GED, Noriyuki said in an e-mail, Rocha now attends George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Itâ€™s the first time in about 12 years that Rocha will see Noriyuki, the man Rocha says was a strong influence in his life and whom without, said heâ€™d still be in prison today.
The biggest message Rocha wants to communicate Saturday is that itâ€™s possible to come from the bottom and become a success. And in order to attain this success, students need to find their voice, through whatever medium is available.
â€œArt can save your life,â€ he said. â€œWriting was my key to freedom.â€
News Managing Editor Madeline Novey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.