Jorge Cuevas will speak about joining a gang and how it affected his life

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FARMINGTON — A Farmington man will speak Thursday about his time in a California gang — and how he turned his life around after great adversity — during an event he planned along with the city's police department.

Jorge Cuevas, 44, will tell about joining a gang in the greater Los Angeles, California area when he was a teenager, how he lost the use of his legs during a gang shooting and the toll that life in a gang took on his family and friends.

The Farmington Police Department is hosting the event, titled "Choices: An Inspirational Presentation," from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Sycamore Park Community Center at 1051 Sycamore St. 

Members of the Farmington police gang unit also plan to speak at the event about the history of gangs and how Farmington is doing in terms of gang activity, Farmington police District Coordinator MicheleDeLese said.

The idea for Cuevas to speak about his experience developed after he met DeLese when she taught at San Juan College a few years ago.

The two started talking after meeting on campus and DeLese invited him to speak to her class, she said.

Although Cuevas never spoke to DeLese's class, he ran into another Farmington officer at an area gym last summer, and Cuevas brought up the idea of telling his story.

The officer then reached out to DeLese, which led to her organizing Thursday's event.

"He wants to make a difference in people's lives and that it's not too late to change," DeLese said.

Cuevas lived in Cudahy, California and joined a gang after his father left the family and went to Mexico when he was 13 or 14-years-old.

Feeling anger at his father for abandoning his family, Cuevas started spending more time with his friends and ended up joining a gang.

During his time in the gang, Cuevas was shot and left paralyzed without the use of his legs. Cuevas' then 16-year-old brother, Jaime Cuevas, and a friend were shot and killed as part of a gang war.

Cuevas moved to Farmington in 1997 and started selling drugs like he did in California. He, along with several family members, was arrested in 2003 and indicted on federal drug charges.

Cuevas said he served six years and six months in prison, and served about two years in custody pending trial, which he described as a nightmare.

He recounted how devastated he felt seeing his nephews and nieces lose their parents following the arrests and how it destroyed his family.

It left him with an urgency to get his act together for his family and to be a positive role model as "Uncle Georgie" to his nieces and nephews.

"My relatives look up to me. I want to show them I'm different," Cuevas said.

He is attending San Juan College and pursuing a business degree and hopes to continue his education and earn a Bachelor's Degree.

"We have a choice to change our lives and make something of it," Cuevas said.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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