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Local judge’s Youth Mentoring Program produces appreciation for intervention
Pearsall Municipal Judge Juan Ponce has expanded his office services to maximize community resources and provide opportunities that enable individuals to become responsible and productive citizens.
He believes it will improve the lives of those who are regarded locally as common offenders.
Ponce took office in 2019 and has made it a top priority to find an avenue that may break the cycle of captive thinking among young and old offenders who face misdemeanor charges.
The judge said he learned that 88 percent of citizens who were found guilty of a crime would come into his courtroom.
“In 2019, as a court we visited multiple schools and interacted with many city-organized functions,” Ponce said. “My staff and I would make the effort to get to know the concerns and thoughts of the local citizens of Pearsall.”
Through those efforts, Ponce learned that many citizens – young and old – who were born in Pearsall would finish school and work either in the oilfield or on the power lines. This information prompted Ponce to institute the Judicial Leadership Mentoring program, a nonconventional approach that gives offenders an alternative to the usual community services options.
“We would spend time reflecting on life choices,” the judge said. “We would find a way to see them receive either their GED or diploma. With some, we saw them apply for trade school and a select few who were willing, we watched and assisted them in signing up for junior college.”
Recently, Ponce had three young men complete the mentoring program in which the judge challenged them to reflect on their life choices that led them into his office. The boys were asked to think of how one poor choice could be the gateway to a lifestyle cycle that could rob them of their future.
The final step was for the boys, Aiden Garcia, Hector Monroy and James Ortegon, to write letters of appreciation to Pearsall Police Chief Peter Salinas and Officer Lindsey Gonzales. On Monday, November 30, the trio presented the letters to the law enforcement officers.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity she [Officer Gonzales] gave me,” Monroy wrote in his letter. “Because if I was known as a bad kid or troublemaker it really would have changed my life forever. Even though she may not know it, she changed my perspective on life. She showed me that even the smallest discrepancies in life can really change you forever.”
Ponce said Monroy’s letter summed up the goal of the program.
“I want to wake up all defendants who enter this program to the true reality and hope they will take the path less traveled,” the judge said. “It is more challenging, but oh so rewarding.”
“Thank you to Chief Salinas, Officer Gonzales and our entire PD force for doing a job that not everyone wants to do, but a job everyone in our city needs y’all to do,” Ortegon wrote.
Ponce noted that the program would not be possible without the cooperation of the local police department.