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‘From Prison to A-student’: Former addict becomes graduate at 62, inspires netizens


It’s never too late to start afresh and a California man proved just that as he completed his graduation at 62. However, what really makes his story stand out is the fact that he spent most of his adult life in prison battling addiction. His incredible redemption story has now become a source of inspiration for netizens worldwide.

Joseph Valadez from Fountain Valley, California, recently graduated from California State University of Long Beach with a degree in Sociology. He took to Facebook recently to share the joyous news on the university’s students’ page along with a few celebratory photographs. One showed Valadez flaunting his heavily tattooed arms wearing a white tank top — holding his graduation certificate. While another one shows him in a black robe to mark the occasion.

While Valadez’s pictures struck a chord with thousands on social media, he also scripted a moving message, saying, “There’s a misconception about guys like me that I want to break. If I can do it, anyone can.” He added that he finished his last two semesters on the “President’s Honour List” for getting straight As and also made the Dean’s List, graduating with a 3.67 GPA.

Netizens couldn’t stop commending him, calling his journey “admirable”. His university, too, gave him a huge shoutout.

The College of Liberal Art at the University congratulated him for breaking stereotypes and also underlined how his story “brings awareness of stigma and misconceptions attached to those who have been formerly incarcerated”.

As his story went viral, another post by Valadez on his rehabilitation centre’s page, too, created a buzz online as he expressed his gratitude to the academic institute for taking him in.

Saying that he was offered shelter and support for a year from April 2013-14, when no one wanted him — he joined the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center of Anaheim “6 days clean”. Crossing another important milestone in his life, he said that he has been sober for more than 2,800 days.

“All I wanted was to stop putting needles in my arms. I had been running and gunning for 43 years, 38 years as a heroin addict. I’ve spent half my adult life in prison as a direct result of my addiction. The Salvation Army’s ARC program saved my life,” his post read.

Speaking to ABC 7 after his story started making waves on social media, Valadez said he wished his mother, Anita, could have seen him graduate college. “For years, she watched her son spiral into drug addiction, gang violence, prison and homelessness. Yet, he says despite all that, his mom tried to inspire him,” a report said.

He enrolled in college, struggling through six years of gruelling coursework to finally earn a degree. However, he said he now realises how the system failed him. “I had good grades in high school,” he told Long Beach Post, adding, “Never did any of them teachers ask me whether I wanted to go to college.”

He said it was his tragic experiences that made him take up studying sociology later. According to the news outlet, he wrote papers about “the way racial discrimination in the criminal justice system and beyond has put people of colour at a disadvantage”. Now, he hopes, through his story and degree he can motivate others to embark on a similar journey, as he is awaiting to be accepted to the Masters’ Program in social work at the university.

Congratulating him on his ‘inspiring’ journey to sobriety and graduation, many, who came across his posts, said his story is a testament that it’s never too late to fulfil one’s dream.





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