Julio L.


My name's Julio, grew up in a messed up environment, always being evicted from home's. I grew up with a single mother and just my brother. I never really had a dream growing up and never had a future to think of something I would want to do. And so as time went on, I just started seeing how I'm going to make money, and I figured one way I could make money, I mean, I guess is just stealing things. It started off just, as a little kid, probably just stealing a little candy bar from a store or something. And just little steps like that started leading up to furthermore, and I started like, "You know what? I'm getting comfortable with stealing, and I think I'm pretty slick with it." I wanted to help my mom out, and there was one way about making money, which is probably just violence. That's how I seen it.

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Violence led me to then being incarcerated when I was 12 years old, my first time. I came out and, I don’t know, for some reason, I just got addicted, being incarcerated, kept going back every two weeks and I would get, I don’t know, placements, home rehabs, and it wouldn’t work for me until I got caught up into a more serious crime. The judge wasn’t having it no more with me, and he was just like, “We’re going to give you one more chance.” But they gave me more time. They gave me juvenile life. I just took it through one ear and out the other. That’s how growing up, I was just a knuckleheaded. I didn’t really understand the consequences. I didn’t think about the consequences. I would just be, “All right. Sure.” I would just take it like a pat on the hand, like a slap on the wrist. “All right, sure.”

One thing I do remember is this one special kid named Yayo. He was incarcerated with me. I went to an inmate crew fire camp called Pine Grove, and I knew him there and I met him, and this cool kid, man. He was always happy. He always put a smile on my face. For some reason, he was always a cool kid, like, “Hey man, let’s go workout.” And I just liked being around him. And he got home, he went home, and this guy Yayo, he used to be a mess up too. He used to mess up and everything.

And when I heard that he got out and he was doing good and when he came back to visit me when I was incarcerated, he came in with a suit, he looked just fresh, new, everything new. And I was right there, baldheaded, and I come in and he looks at me like, “You’re still here? What are you doing here? When are you going to go home?” And I’m just like, “I don’t know, man.”

That whole day, I remember, he was on me. He was literally like, “Come on, man, get your stuff together, man. Get your head out of your ass. This is not you, man. Your family needs you out there. And nobody really used to talk to me like that, in an aggressive way how he was talking to me. So it was kind of like, “Oh, okay,” and I took it, “All right, you’re my boy.”

And I liked that. And that same week, once I finished, I gave him one last hug, and that’s when that same week he passed away. And when I heard that call when they said, “He’s gone,” I couldn’t believe it. Everything was just like … “No. Nah, I don’t believe it.” He was just here, he just came to visit me this week, and you’re going to tell me three days later he’s dead? I couldn’t understand, and that one hit me. That one hit me really hard. I couldn’t believe it. I just felt numb and it was unexplainable. I couldn’t understand. And it was so bad that the staff, even they noticed I wasn’t me. And I seen a pastor that same day too, and the pastor, we were talking and we’re praying. He prayed for me and everything, and he prayed for Yayo. One thing the pastor told me was, “What was the last words he told you before he left?” And the only thing I remember was that day when he was just on me. He was just like, “Get your life together. What are you still doing here?” When I told the pastor that, he told me, “Well, don’t you think that’s God sending a message to you for you to get your stuff together?”

And when I thought about it, it was like, “You know what? I think that was a message for me. He probably delivered that message before he left.” Then after that day, I did a whole 180. I woke up the next morning and, “You know what? I’m going to do it for Yayo. I’m going to do it for him.” And sure enough, I started doing good. I started doing good. I finally got to go to my board hearing and they told me I’m going to go home. And when they told me when I was going to go home, I started crying. I thought I was never going to go home.

When I got out, it was hard. It was very tough. There were a lot of distractions. I had a couple of bumps as soon as I got home. And the good thing is I didn’t fall down like the way before. And when I feel like I’m in my roughest times, then I’ll just think, “You know what? I’m going to do it for Yayo.”

I got into wildland firefighting because that’s what I wanted to do. And that’s where I was with Yayo. And I remember Yayo would always tell me that he wanted to be a wildland firefighter. I’m now with the Texas Canyon Hotshots up in Santa Clarita, and I would never picture myself being here, a hotshot, being a wildland fireman. I’ve been traveling, I never thought I would travel. I just came back from Alaska. I’m in Arizona, and as a matter of fact, I just got a call right now too that we’re going to go to Colorado tomorrow. And then it’s just like it’s busy, it’s a busy job. And I love it because I got a lot of energy for myself because I’m still young. It’s a good job to keep me to maintain myself, to keep me busy, and going all over the United States and traveling and learning new things.

I love the job. Every single time when I’m in my hardest times fighting the fires, all I think about when literally when I’m ready to go down, I just think about it like, “No, I’m going to do it for Yayo.” And when I’m hiking up with that pack that’s like 50 pounds and just hiking, and it’s a hundred degrees out there and it’s horrible, and all I could think about when I see a little butterfly, and I’ll just think about it like, “Hey, that’s probably Yayo right there,” and that gives me the motivation to keep pushing myself and don’t give up. And he taught me to have the courage and to be strong, to stay solid, to not give up.