Former correctional officer Octavio Leal joined the San Diego Boys to Men Mentoring Network to help keep at-risk boys from traveling down the path which could lead to jail or prison.
Leal was a correctional officer at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility until he was injured. During a lengthy recovery period, frustration set in. He began to drink heavily, was fighting with his son’s mother and not being very attentive to his son.
Fortunately Leal became involved with the Boys to Men Mentoring Network before a worst-case scenario occurred in his life, according reporter Karla Peterson of San Diego Tribune.
During his low period, Leal attended a consciousness-raising workshop which he credits with changing him, allowing him to share emotions and be more accountable. This led him to join Boys to Men as a mentor.
Leal, who eventually became a professor and adjunct counselor at Cuyamaca College, recalls, “Kids look for a mentor, one way or the other. … I could have ended up on the other side of the criminal justice system, if I didn’t have the right grown-ups in my life,” he told Peterson.
Leal urged his son, Angel, to join Boys to Men too. At first, Angel had his doubts, but found the team of mentors to be encouraging and helpful. “I can open up to them about stuff I can’t talk to my dad about,” he said.
Medication and behavior therapy techniques have assisted Angel in getting a handle on his ADHD. He joined the wrestling team and then became ASB president at the East Hills Academy in Chula Vista. He is now a Boys to Men mentor just like his dad, reported Peterson.
“Octavio and Angel represent us everyday,” said Boys to Men program director Anthony Hutchings. “Octavio gives all the time he has. He has the patience with the boys, and he is not afraid of sharing what went wrong in his past. Angel leads by example. He shares where he was and where he is now, and they can see that change is possible.”
“To be able to pay it forward in the community where I grew up, it feels like it ties everything together,” Leal told Peterson. “To me it is a gift.”
Boys to Men (www.boystomen.org) has mentors that serve as role models, sounding boards, counselors and friends. They have 20 locations in San Diego and other networks across the nation.