Steven's Story

My name is Steven Mangual. I am the Justice Advocate Coordinator for LatinoJustice PRLDEF. I was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. My mom struggled, you know, as a single parent, raising three children, she struggled with her own mental illness and her substance abuse issues. I wind up very, very early on fighting in school, very early on smoking marijuana and trying, you know, different types of drugs.

I wind up getting arrested the very first time, actually, when I was 15 years old. I had already been involved in selling marijuana and being in the street and being around other people who were older than me, who were teaching me, you know, the drug game. All I knew was, you know, drugs and violence and being in the street.

The last day I saw my mother’s face alive was July 25, 1991. Around August 4, August 5, I get a phone call. They got into a horrible car accident with a truck. My mother was in the front seat, so she got the worst of it. My grief was horrible. I was drinking and smoking every single day up until blackout. And I didn’t really have help for it. I leaned into my violence.

So November 2, 1992, we were selling drugs on the block. We learned about the rival, you know, drug gang that was selling down the block. We all started shooting. We ran away. And one guy wound up losing his life. The very next day, November 3, 1992, I was arrested. I was sentenced to first degree manslaughter and first degree assault. 24 years as a first time felony offender, and I served 14 years.

A lot of the old school people that I found, had already 20 years in, had already 25 years in — they introduced me to college. And so I enrolled in the college program. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in prison. I’d just left two children behind, and I wanted to be somebody that they would be proud of whenever I got out. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had my GED, but that was it. That was like my very first real plan. The — my very first real plan that I could think of, you know, I had set goals for myself.

I find out at that point that I wasn’t able to get a college degree because they were already talking about they were gonna take away TAP and Pell from us. I was devastated. Oh, man, it was horrible. A lot of us were planning on, that was gonna be what we did for the for the next five, six years. And now, what am I gonna do now? Why would the war on drugs have anything to do with us using higher education as the only successful form of zero recidivism? The only real true and honest, if there ever was, rehabilitative program?

I didn’t let them take away my hopes during that time. We continued our own college classes on the ground, in the yard, and I learned how to speak and how to write and how to organize and I learned everything that I’ve been using post-incarceration, and I wind up going to school for five and a half years post-incarceration.

That’s always been the spark for me, when I went to college in 1994. Everything after that, everything after that came from that. There’s so many of us that are doing so much good work, post-incarceration, that went through all of those barriers — that didn’t let the barriers stop us, you know. I did what I had to do to get through. But there are a lot of people who, you know, gave up. There are a lot of people who, you know, were unable to get through for no fault of their own.

We can uproot the drug war from our communities.

It Takes All Of Us

Get involved in the grassroots movement to uproot the drug war in all systems.