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May 19, 2010

After a Youth of Breaking the Law, He Finds His Calling: Making the Law

Daily Journal | By Sara Randazzo


Francis "Frankie" Guzman learned at an early age what it means to be discriminated against. In juvenile hall for armed robbery at age 15, Guzman watched as two young white women who robbed a pizza joint at gunpoint got off with probation after two weeks in jail. With a nearly identical crime, Guzman, a Mexican American, waited eight months to hear his sentence - and got 15 years in prison.

Guzman said he "mostly took the wrong track" while growing up in Oxnard, a city with a large number of Mexican immigrants in the heavily Republican county of Ventura. Raised in a house with four women, Guzman quickly turned to the streets to find male role models. By age 10, he would do anything for his brothers in the local gang. A few years later, he failed out of high school with a 0.8 grade point average and landed in the California Youth Authority for robbing a liquor store with a handgun and a stolen car.

Fast forward to 2010, and a 30-year-old Guzman has just finished his first year at UCLA School of Law, is set to co-chair the school's La Raza Law Students Association next year, and is about to begin a summer internship with Public Counsel in Los Angeles.

It took three stints in youth prison - four years of his original sentence plus two additional years for parole violations - before he shook his criminal way of life. The experience showed him "the whole system was corrupt and racist and unfair," he said, which fueled his desire to one day change the system.

Now, he aspires to run his own nonprofit focused on youth development, mental health care, juvenile justice and immigration law. He envisions a small operation that would get local students involved in conducting research on issues facing the community and would bring class action lawsuits if policy recommendations were not taken seriously.

In the short term, Guzman plans to work for Public Counsel and continue speaking to students at underperforming California schools, something he's done for years. He said he speaks to hundreds of kids a month, telling them his story and encouraging them to pick a good path.

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