A Long Beach man who spent more than three decades in prison recently graduated from Cal State Long Beach this month, with honors. He is now awaiting acceptance into a master’s program in social work at the same university.
Joseph Valadez spent half his adult life in prison, but he’s not letting that stop him from improving his future prospects.
“There’s a misconception about guys like me that I want to break,” he shared on social media. “If I can do it, anyone can.”
Joseph, 62, graduated on the dean’s list with a GPA of 3.67 and also made the president’s honor list for earning straight As.
“Not bad for someone who spent half his adult life in prison,” he said in his social media post.
He told ABC that only one thing could’ve made his graduation even sweeter: if his mother, Anita Valadez, had been alive to share the moment with him.
“My mom has been gone for 14 years,” he said through tears. “But she never gave up hope on me.”
Despite the fact that Joseph started using drugs at the young age of 11, which spiraled into gang activity and homelessness, he says his mother always believed in him.
“She always told me that I could be somebody,” he added. “She said I was smart. She never gave up hope on me.”
Joseph spent over 30 years in prison and says he was on the brink of death 12 years ago. The experience served as a moment of clarity for him, and he decided to get clean.
Not long afterward, he enrolled in college, and for the next six years, he focused on finishing the difficult curriculum, eventually earning his degree.
“Right now I’m waiting to see if I get accepted to the Masters Program MSW at Long Beach,” he shared on social media. “Please wish me luck.”
In an interview with Long Beach Post News, Joseph shared that life experiences are what led him to pursue a career in social work.
“I lived it, I wanted to understand the ‘why?’” he said. “I’m going to inspire somebody, I’m going to motivate somebody, I’m going to give somebody hope.”
And inspire somebody he has.
After Joseph shared his social media post, Twitter user @_SupHolmes retweeted it, and it quickly went viral with over 397,000 likes and 67,000 shares.
“This man accomplished something incredible AND took the coldest pic of 2021,” the retweet read.
And Joseph’s story inspired still more Twitter users. One commented, “I was 25 thinking I was too old to go back to college … [What] was wrong with me?”
“Hard work beats all,” another wrote. “Living proof anybody can thrive in America.”