SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Over the years we've heard of the gang violence in Santa Maria, sometimes murder. Every so often there's someone who rises from that lifestyle, who goes on to do great things.
This young man's story is really a story of beating the odds. Just about nine years ago he was a known gang member here in Santa Maria. Now he's been accepted to San Francisco State University.
"I would go to class with like a black eye or a bloodied shirt," Adrian Espindola of Santa Maria said. The before and after pictures of Adrian Espindola are almost unrecognizable. "I grew up in the projects," Espindola said. "School was always a burden for me."
Espindola started flirting with the gang life - and it wasn't long before he got caught up. "I started hanging out with gangs, I started doing drugs," Espindola said. He started "putting in work" with his gang.
"I was fighting a lot, it was a lot of gang enhancement, I was on house arrest and I would leave," Espindola said.
Espindola has his regrets. "I was upset so I felt like I needed to take my aggression out on a kid that that didn't really do anything to me, he was playing basketball, accidentally hit me and I decided to attack the kid," Espindola said.
That attack snowballed into fights with rival gangs. "I wanted not to just be a local gang that didn't get recognition, I wanted it all," Espindola said. But nine years ago, something happened. "Things have changed so much, you know," Espindola said
After being expelled from school, juvenile hall, court-ordered boot camp and his mom being hospitalized for liver disease - he'd had enough.
"I guess that's why I'm here, I'm here to tell people that everyone has something special," Espindola said.
Once out, he received his Certified Nurses Assistant Certificate from Hancock College and began working at Marian Regional Medical Center. He became an Emergency Room tech in October.
Now 27-years-old, Espindola graduates with his Associates Degree in May and has been accepted to San Francisco State University.
"My father just recently told me, 'I'm proud of you,' " Espindola said.
He then plans to get a Master's Degree from Stanford - but his fans keep telling him, why stop there.
"You know if you're in a gang, if you're not even in a gang, if you're in a work environment where you're not happy, if you're pursuing a career that doesn't fulfill you, do something about it," Espindola said. "Because if you're willing to give yourself value and appreciate who you are, then people are going to start appreciating you."
Espindola is off to San Francisco State University in August.