Faces of CNM: Angel Garcia

A former gang member who was incarcerated, Angel is now thriving as a student leader who credits his uncle and CNM for helping him turn his life around.
Faces of CNM: Angel Garcia

Nov 25, 2019

Angel Garcia was incarcerated for most of his 20s. But his life has changed so dramatically since arriving at CNM a couple years ago, he now has dreams of becoming one of CNM’s future presidents.

That might take a while, but Angel, 35, is fine with it. He’ll finish his associate degree in Electrical Trades this coming spring then plans to head off for a bachelor’s and a Ph.D.

“Maybe in 25 years I can come back and sit in LSA (Louis E. Saavedra Administration Building where the CNM president’s office is located) because I honestly feel like I owe CNM,” he says. “The college has really given me the chance to get my life back on track.”

Raised in South Central Los Angeles, Angel joined a gang at 13 and spent the next 20 years as a gang member. He was incarcerated four different times on drug and weapons possession charges. After being released the final time, he was determined to change his life.

Fortunately, Angel’s uncle, a math professor at UNM and CNM, offered to host him in Albuquerque, but told Angel the only condition was that he had to attend CNM. Angel was apprehensive about starting college in his 30s, but came anyway and immediately felt welcomed.

“Every instructor I had kept telling me to just concentrate on my future and reminded me that my past doesn’t have to define me,” he says.

As he settled in, Angel also started to branch out. He excelled in his classes and eventually became the President of CNM’s Executive Council of Students, a position that’s afforded him regular meetings with retiring CNM President Kathie Winograd. He’s a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society for community colleges and President of CNM’s local Alpha Upsilon Chi chapter.

Nowadays, Angel is also a peer mentor with CNM’s Formerly Incarcerated Students' Reintegration Success Team (FIRST), which helps formerly or currently incarcerated students navigate and access post-secondary education. Part of that job involves classrooms visits across CNM’s campuses to explain the program and offer resources. 

Just last week, Angel says he presented at Montoya Campus and had a student speak up to explain how his involvement with the criminal justice system had prevented him from graduating high school. That student is now pursuing his GED and thanked Angel for the support and information. 

As Angel sees it, the work he’s doing now is a precursor to the work he can eventually do as a CNM President. He hopes he can inspire other formerly incarcerated students to use CNM as a launching point, and feels like giving back will help him continue to leave his past behind. 

“When I first got to CNM, I was upset because I felt like I’d wasted 20 years of my life,” he says. “But now I feel completely different. I want to use those 20 years and everything I learned to help as many others as I can.”