Pueblo man overcomes gang past, prison to graduate with associate's degree

PUEBLO, Colo. -- A Pueblo man is living proof that nothing can stand in your way if you are determined to achieve something in life. 

Severino Martinez, 35, joined his classmates during the commencement ceremony at Pueblo Community College Friday evening, where he walked the stage to earn his associate's degree. 

But getting there was not easy -- and he has the knife scars and Mexican gang tattoos to prove it. 

"I was actually a gangbanger," Martinez told the Pueblo Chieftain earlier this week. "It started when I was 13 and that was my life for about 22 years."

Martinez, who grew up in Walsenburg, became acquainted with the gang lifestyle early on in life, eventually leading him to the Surenos, a prominent Mexican gang that has members in many parts of Southern Colorado, according to the Chieftain. 

After getting kicked out of high school in 10th grade and almost getting killed at the age of 18, Martinez would continue down the beaten path, eventually landing in prison for five years, the newspaper reports. 

It was inside a cell where Martinez would obtain his GED and later learn about the HOPE Bridge Program at PCC, which helps convicted felons reintegrate into society

But the newspaper reports Martinez would have problems reintegrating into a normal life, telling the newspaper he found a way back into the Surenos during his first year at college. 

Life took a turn for Martinez when he found out about TRiO -- a federal student outreach program that offers services to people coming from disadvantaged backgrounds

The Chieftain reports that since he became involved with TRiO, Martinez has drastically changed his life around. Martinez told the newspaper he will transfer Colorado State University-Pueblo to work on getting his bachelor's degree in Fine Arts, as he hopes to one day become a photographer or graphic designer. 

"If I can actually do it and change my life for the better, anybody can," he told the Pueblo Chieftain. 

If you'd like to know more about Martinez and his struggle, head over to the newspaper's website to read the full story. 

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