April 9, 2018 marked the four-year anniversary of Kent Mendoza’s release from ICE-detention facility and prison. He now represents the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), its members, and allies in advocating for a fair criminal justice system and establishing a support network to reduce recidivism. Kent was once part of the system he is actively trying to change as a policy coordinator for ARC.
Shortly after he and his mother immigrated to the United State and settling in Los Angeles, Kent was influenced by a local gang and subsequently joined the group. At just 13 years old, he was in and out of several correctional facilities. He described his experience as moving beyond “gangs” to become “gladiators” who were hardened for even more involvement in criminal organizations. At 17, he was tried in adult court which could have resulted in a punishment of 25 years-to-life, an adult prison sentence.
During his incarceration, he met Scott Budnick, the person who finally gave him the confidence to pursue a life of second chances. Budnick is the founder of Anti-Recidivism Coalition. Kent Mendoza is a testimony to the reality of second chances. He and the entire Coalition engage young people and their families through community organizing, leadership development programs, mentorship, and policy advocacy to reduce recidivism and change the public perception towards those who were formerly incarcerated.
Shifting public perception through storytelling is a main advocacy tool for the ARC, and this is in part due to Scott Budnick’s media background. Budnick first walked into the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall while he was still an executive vice president of Green Hat Films, where he was the producer of numerous successful comedies, including The Hangover series. While volunteering with the InsideOUT Writers program, a workshop aimed at helping incarcerated youth express themselves through writing, Scott learned not only of the life-changing decisions they had made, but also of their childhoods marked by trauma, violence, and neglect. Since that day, Scott committed to mentoring incarcerated youth.
That mentorship has evolved into today’s ARC model for re-entry and rehabilitation that incorporates housing placement, on-site supportive services to individuals returning home from incarceration, and education opportunities through partnership with California’s community colleges. One example is the Bromont Housing Program that partners with Los Angeles Mission College to provide stable housing, life skills training, therapy, employment, and education support to over 30 residents. Another is the Magnolia Housing Program that collaborates with Los Angeles Trade Technical College to provide employment and education opportunities while aiding the transition of residents into permanent, stable housing.
ARC’s model has resulted in an extremely low recidivism rate of less than 10 percent from members, much lower California’s overall recidivism rate of 60 percent. Among policies the organization has pushed through include limiting the practice of sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole, as well as providing second chances to individuals who committed their crimes as youth but received adult prison sentences.
Kent’s own second chance led him to a long list of accomplishments, including going to the White House and meeting then President Barack Obama, and publishing a widely-read article in the Huffington Post. In 2014, he began working at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. Within the Chamber, he advanced from an intern to a full-time staff member. While working at the Chamber on smart justice issues, he successfully completed the 2015 Commission Training Program offered by the Wally Marks Leadership Institute that is part of the Liberty Hill Foundation. He was appointed to the State Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention by Governor Jerry Brown in 2016. Most recently, he was appointed to serve on the Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Justice Coordinated Council.
Kent sees himself not simply as a coordinator, but as a motivational leader and a builder in his community. He views his involvement as the platform through which organizations and he himself can be held accountable to the mission and values that ARC propels. It is through using his voice and changing policy that Kent now “exerts his muscles”. He and ARC testify to the resilience and strength of the LA community, committed to a more equitable justice system.