Leonard “Cody” C
REPRESENT JUSTICE X JR: TEHACHAPI
My name is Leonard Caballero. I'm 25 years old. Most of the people that know me are close to me call me Cody. For me, a lot of guys, they don't find spirituality. For me, I found God in my life, luckily at a younger age before it was too late, but it was almost like a sense of relief like a weight was taken off my shoulders. I was able to just breathe.
For many years, I had a cloudy mind, and I didn’t see the big picture. We have the general ideas, “Oh, I want to go home. I want to see my family. I want to go back out and see the ocean,” but that feeling that I’ve, because I’ve found religion before, and I’ve tried to get sober, and it’s worked for a time period, but then I went back, but this time was different because it wasn’t about me. It was about… not only did I commit my crime and I hurt my victim, but I also hurt my family, the people that didn’t know that I lived this lifestyle.
The people that wanted to see me do good, the people that loved me and just wanted me home, watching me kill myself every day over a stupid drug or a fix and only be home when I was high. It was sad but, at the end of the day, if I don’t work on myself, then I can’t be there for them. If I don’t love who I am and what I want for my life, then I can’t be there for them so, when I was able to actually change who I was and what I know that I needed to do, then it caused a change in my family. They noticed that, even when I’d just call them on the phone, they can tell just by me talking to them that, “Oh, I’m proud of you. I can’t wait for you to come home. I can see that you really want to do right this time.”
I’ve never gotten certificates until I got to this yard. I’ve never signed up for college until I got to this yard. There’s a lot of things that I haven’t done and, now that I’m able to do them, every little milestone that I get is more, I guess, strength because, in here, it’s real easy to live this lifestyle. It’s real easy to follow guidelines because they’re all made out for us, you know, do this, do that, do that but, when we get out there, it’s a free-for-all so, if I wasn’t able to change this now, then when I get out to society, I’m not going to be a functioning member because I don’t have those rules.
I don’t have these guidelines like, “Okay, I got to get up. I got to go get a job. I got to go to work. I got to provide for my family.” It’s not just, “Oh, I got sober” or, “Oh, I’m doing better” or, “I haven’t been in trouble.” It’s a lot of things that I had to fix within myself that I had to realize I want a better lifestyle and, if I can live a better lifestyle and do better for myself, then I can do that for my family. I can be there when they need me to because I know I’m focusing on one step at a time for my life. You know what I mean because, at the end of the day, if I don’t change my life, then I can’t be there for the little ones or I can’t be there for my grandparents, you know? So, change is huge for me.
I come from a background of a close-knit family. I grew up around a rural area and communities that are surrounded by drug and gang lifestyle. Unfortunately, that was the path that I took at a young age of 19. I caught my first case and, since 19, that’s basically all of the lifestyles that I’ve known. I’ve done a lot of damage and a lot of wrongs, not only to my community, but to people, physically, emotionally, but what holds closer to my heart is, I ruined a lot of relationships within my family and, after six years of doing this, it led me to try to find a way to alter what I was used to.
That was hard for a long time because I got complacent, and then I was a real, real people person. I always liked to do what other people were doing and follow their footsteps, though they were in the wrong direction, but now I’m in a better place with my family, and I’m able to show people by the way I walk and the way I talk that I’m not the same person that I was when I came to prison. Now that I’m able to put my life out there and my emotions and show people that change is possible for anybody, regardless of your circumstances, whether you’re in prison or you’re not in prison, and not only with addiction, but just a lifestyle in general.
For me, when I was able to change that and find that I have a better purpose, now I can love myself and, when I was able to love myself, it allowed me to be able to love other people and know that other people that are giving me feedback and acknowledging that I make mistakes are just trying to show me that I’m doing something wrong and not in a way that’s trying to get me to feel down on myself, but to better me. Now that I’m able to acknowledge that, I’m able to grow as a person and be able to show that I’m ready for change and that people can see me for who I am and not what I’m wearing or the tattoos I have or the mentality that they perceive prisoners as.
I’m currently going to college, and a passion of mine is, not only to be able to talk to people but to our youth. For me, I’m working and I’m continuing to grow on my communication skills, but one of the things that I know and that I’ve gone through is seeing the addiction and how that lifestyle has continued to grow and ruin families and communities, but what people fail to realize is, it all starts with our youth.
What I believe will help is with my communication, becoming a counselor, a youth counselor and maybe telling my side of the story and how from turning and becoming an adult, this is the lifestyle I grew up in, unfortunate, behind drugs and alcohol, and maybe be able to help the younger generation before they get into adulthood and start a prison term and maybe end up doing a life sentence or maybe end up, unfortunately, it happens, but dying in prison, before they get to that aspect, be able to show them that this lifestyle, what you’re doing, is going to lead to this.
Me, being a person that has been through that and has grown through that and has seen addiction in the family, what it does to, not only the family but then it’s a ripple effect. It’s the family, then it goes to the community, and then you end up in a broader spectrum and, at the end of the day, if I’m able to help just that one person in a crowd of millions, that’s getting to somebody that’s going to change their life, and that might change someone else’s life, and then a ripple effect. It’ll just continue to go on, so I think it all starts with our youth.
I could have continued the lifestyle that I was doing and I still would’ve gotten out, but that lifestyle of being a gang member leads to, unfortunately, other incidences, and who knows? We talk about all the time is, sometimes you get into a fight and you don’t know. That guy might fall wrong, he dies, and now you’re catching a life sentence, so it just came to a point where I didn’t want anything to do with gangs or that lifestyle. I want to change that because I have a family that’s there for me and loves me and that wants me home. I’m the only one in my entire family that has been to prison, that has done this lifestyle, not the first one with addiction problems, but I’m the first one to commit crimes behind my addiction.
I’ve been in and out since I was 19, but on this term, I’ve been down since 2016, January 2016, and I have a 16 years, 4 months term and, fortunately, I fall under the guidelines of Prop 57, so I have a shot at going home within the next two years, so I look at it as, if I start changing my ways now, then it’s not sprung on me, “Oh, you’re going home.” Then, it’s like, “Oh, well, man. I’m still getting high” or, “I’m still doing stupid things. Now, I’m going to go back to society and cause more problems.” I want to be able to go back and say, “Hey, I changed. I can do this.” Give me an opportunity to show people that we can do this, so then other people can get the opportunity to go home.
I know plenty of guys here that live the lifestyle of a changed life but, unfortunately, they have life sentences, and some of them don’t have that opportunity to go home and see their family or show other people that they have changed. A person doing life, they can say, “You know what? F this. I’m good. I don’t care. I want to drink. I want to get high. I want to get in trouble. I don’t care. I’m never going home.” It’s a sad way of thinking, but it’s reality here, and some of these guys, they still stay sober, they still don’t get in trouble, they still go to group, they still wake up every day positive, happy that there is that one little thought that they might go home, and that’s all that drives them.
I’ve had cellies, I’ve lived with people that have life terms, and they tell me all the time, “You have the opportunity to go home. If you go home and you mess up or you get in trouble and you ruin that, why do you want to live this lifestyle? I don’t have that opportunity. Some guys have been down 30, 40 years and still haven’t had the opportunity, so it’s like I look at it as I have that opportunity, so I got to make the best of that so, that way, I can be a voice for those that can’t go out there and live that style and be able to change or show people that they can change.
Even if I’m able to advocate for some kind of law or anything or say, “Hey, I was one of those guys that you guys let go home, and now look at me. I’m doing good. I got a house, a car, a wife, whatever.” Now, these guys are like, “Man, well, if this guy can do it, maybe these guys might be able to go home and live that lifestyle.” That’s one thing that I’ve seen.