The Prison Post Bonus Episode #11 Ruben Gurrola, College Student Sentenced to 15 Years to Life

Published on: 27th January, 2021

This week’s episode of The Prison Post features part one of a three part series with Ruben Gurrola. Ruben was born in Bakersfield, California. He was born in 1988 and is currently 32 years old. Ruben was arrested at the age of 23, and sentenced to 15 years to life. His original parole hearing was set for February 2024, but because of Proposition 57 his new hearing is set for a few months from now in 2021.

Ruben is a first generation American, his parents came from Mexico in 1978. He has 2 older brothers who are both older, one by 9 years, the other by 7 years. From a young age Ruben remembers his family always getting along and being happy together. His parents have still been one constant in his life. They are still happily married. His dad worked as a bartender and  did his best to support his family. His mom worked at a daycare that sometimes spilled into their house.

His family never had a lot of money, but they stuck together and made it through because of it. Ruben developed asthma at age 13, he felt that drew him closer to his mom. Because of his asthma Ruben couldn’t play any sports in school and that made him feel like an outsider and like someone who was different.

When Ruben was 10 years old, his older brother was 17, and he didn’t get to hang out with his brother’s friends. That was another reason he felt like he couldn’t make any friends. He started going to his cousins house fairly frequently which was only a 5-7 minute drive. He started hanging out with his cousin more and more. When they got to Jr. high school, his cousin had made some friends and now Ruben had some people to hang out with. His cousin’s friends liked to drink and smoke outside of school. Ruben started drinking on the weekends and on holidays when he was with his cousin.

He remembers being 15-16 years old when he started driving with his friends and going to parties and drinking with his friends. He started getting into cars and making them faster. He and his friends started driving around looking for street races in the neighborhood. The cops came to a few of the street races he was involved in, but he never got caught.

While in high school, Ruben found a girl in his school, Lynn, that he really liked, she was smarter and funnier than he was. She was hospitalized during their junior year with a rare disease. Over the course of the next few months, it was progressively getting worse, after going into a coma, the doctors were still not able to diagnose exactly what was wrong. Ruben started drinking with his friends to cope with her being in the hospital. He began questioning religion and told himself that he didn’t deserve happiness.

Later that year, while Lynn was undergoing surgery, she died in the hospital. Ruben was devastated, he started drinking even more and even thought about committing suicide. His drinking progressed and during his senior year he began skipping class to drink. He keeps telling himself that he can handle the pain, that he can handle every situation.

Entering college Ruben joined a fraternity that his brothers were a part of, he wants people to think that he is happy and outgoing so he put on this appearance. He starts doing poorly in his classes, mostly going out to drink, smoke weed and party. He was eventually kicked out of the fraternity because of his failing grades. Ruben began selling drugs from his apartment and started to experiment with harder drugs like mushrooms and ecstasy.

He lost 60 pounds in 2 months while in college and his parents start to become worried and want him to come home. He took less classes the next year so he could pick up his grades. He meets another girl and they start dating. Ruben is now interning at an aerospace company working on becoming an engineer. He was drinking and smoking weed every single day and driving to work and class.

While dating, Ruben gets his girlfriend pregnant. He couldn’t picture having a kid at first, but then started to come around to the idea that he might be a father. He quit drinking and doing drugs cold turkey in order to get ready for his kid. When Ruben visits his girlfriend at her hometown he learns that her parents made her get an abortion, this crushes Ruben and he goes back to drinking and drugs daily again.

One night Ruben, his girlfriend, and their friends decided they want to go out to the club. While in the club, he and his girlfriend start arguing and Ruben wanted to leave. They took a taxi back to his friend's apartment because that’s where he left his car. They argue for a little longer at the apartment, and he decided to drive home. On the way home, blacked out drunk, Ruben drove on the opposite side of the freeway and crashed into another car head on. Trying to get out of the car to help his girlfriend he realized that he broke both of his legs and that she was dead. 

Ruben was arrested and placed in the county jail. He was completely new to this whole environment. He remembers the guard asking what race he was and what crew he ran with. Ruben didn’t know what that had to do with anything. He was in the county jail for 3 years fighting a life sentence he didn’t believe he deserved. He was eventually sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

In prison, he thought he would lay low and not become affiliated with anyone while he was there. There was an instance in the dayroom when two groups started fighting each other and Ruben sat off to the side of the fight, thinking that it would satisfy the guards because he didn’t actually participate. He was still written up for being there and was beat up by gang members because he didn’t participate.

Soon after, he got thrown into a cell with a Christian. Ruben would try to prove him wrong whenever they would talk about religion. He couldn’t accept that this man could be smarter than he was. The Christian could see right through Ruben and helped him realize that he had been making self destructive choices his entire life.

He committed himself to a life of sobriety and stopped affiliating himself with other gang members in prison. He started making his own choices and devoted his time to improving himself. He resumed taking college courses and received his Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration last year.

He now leads and facilitates several restorative programs and helps other people not make the same mistakes that he made in his life. He attends alcoholics anonymous and helps others who struggle with alcoholism. Ruben is now working on his Master’s Degree in Business and is preparing for his parole hearing later this year. There are many like Ruben in prison who don’t come from gang backgrounds, but are given life sentences for DUI related murder. Today, Ruben has been sober for the last 10 years and is one of the most transformed men we’ve ever encountered. This is his story.

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The Prison Post
Transforming Lives and Healing Communities by Reimagining Reentry
The Prison Post is a podcast interviewing leaders in the criminal justice reform, restorative justice, and social justice movements. In addition, we share the transformational stories of the currently and formerly incarcerated and highlight what CROP Organization is doing by reimagining reentry for returning citizens.
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Richard Mireles

With a Bachelor of Arts in Healthcare Management from California Coast University, Richard is a dynamic public speaker and expert communicator with Advanced Leadership and Communication certifications with the world recognized Toastmasters International. Having spent over 21 years inside of CDCR, Richard made abundant contributions as a cofounder of the Inside Solutions think-tank and lead intern for the CROP Organization’s programs offered within institutions. An inspiring leader and powerful orator with over 35 transformational coaching seminars and workshops, Richard possesses the uncanny ability to capture a room's attention while conveying impactful messages to any audience. He has an advanced certification as an Alcohol and Other Drug counselor (receiving a certificate of recognition from the California State Senate for his contributions to the recovery community) and was the only known incarcerated person to earn the status of associate trainer for John Maxwell’s EQUIP Leadership and its Million Leader Mandate.