The former Latin Kings gang member spent seven years in prison for assault and weapons charges before he turning his life around.
Richard Gamarra, 28, is set to graduate from New York’s Prestigious Columbia University on May 17. The graduation represents a complete turnaround from the path he chose as a 16-year-old, the New York Daily News reported.
Gamarra, the youngest of five Colombian immigrants, caved to peer pressure in high school and joined the Latin Kings street gang.
While attending Holy Cross High School in 2004, an anonymous 911 phone call landed him in hot water when police search his book bag and found a loaded handgun.
“I was a bad kid,” Gamarra said. “I was getting beat up a lot. I knew I needed a weapon to defend myself.”
Criminal gang activity with the Latin Kings landed Gamarra in prison at age 19. “I was in a dark place. It was rough,” Gamarra said. “I didn’t want my life to be this anymore.”
A professor at Columbia University, who taught inmates at upstate Woodbourne Correctional Facility, noticed the potential in Gamarra and offered to help him make something out of his life.
All it took from Gamarra was having his little girl come to visit him in prison for him to realize that he needed to make a serious change in his life.
“I remember a 4-year-old trying to squeeze through this 12-by-5 slot, trying to get to me,” Gamarra recalled. “That really broke me. I said to myself, ‘I need to go home to that girl.’”
Gamarra decided to follow the professor to Columbia University after his release from prison in 2013. He later graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public health.
Now Gamarra is set to graduate from Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health with a master’s degree in public health.
Humbled by the opportunity, Gamarra said he is grateful to the professor helping him turn his life around.
Now, he is an inspiration to young people in his community where he regularly reminds them to choose the right path in life by telling them, “Just don’t be like me in high school.”