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Central Coast Man Overcomes Addiction, Incarceration To Graduate From College


Grad says rocky past led him to his future goal of helping others get lives back on track

For some people, the path to a college diploma is simple, and straightforward. For others, it can be a long, and winding road. Rafael Valdovinos, Jr. knows all too well. He proudly has a new degree from Santa Maria’s Alan Hancock College.

But, the Lompoc man’s path to that degree took more than two decades, and included substance abuse, jail, a failed marriage, and the challenge of raising three kids.

Valdovinos grew up in Santa Maria, and says school came easy for him. He says he got A's at Santa Maria High School. But, he started skipping classes, and got sent to Delta High School. Delta is focused on helping at-risk students.

Valdovinos says he did okay academically, even picking up some college classes, but socially, he veered into dangerous territory. He started hanging out with friends from the neighborhood, and says the lifestyle opened the door to alcohol, and then drug use.

Valdovinos says his life started to spiral out of control, with substance abuse and addiction leading to crime, and jail. All during that lost decade, he tried to go back to school, taking college classes. But, he wasn’t able to stick it out to complete classes.

In 2009, he had enough. He asked a friend who had successfully broken away from the lifestyle for help. Valdovinos went to stay with his friend in Lompoc, and got help for his addiction.

He got a job in the oil industry, and focused on supporting his three kids. In 2017, when his high school age daughter moved in with him, he had an idea. She was an excellent student, so she started also taking some Hancock College classes, and he did as well to support her. He finally decided to quit his job and go to school full-time.

The college gave him a job as part of its Beyond Barriers Re-Entry program. He worked with other students who had been formerly incarcerated. He also volunteered at Santa Barbara County’s Los Prietos Boys Camp. It’s a facility designed to help male juvenile offenders continue their educations, and get their lives back on track.

Valdovinos says while it took him more than two decades, he’s found a path for his life, and wants to focus on helping others.

Valdovinos believes he can uses his experiences, and what he’s learned to show others there is a path out of addiction, and incarceration to a meaningful life. He says while he feels like he’s already lived several lives, the one he's leading now is the one which counts.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.