During the holidays, Steven Martinez worked diligently at The Salvation Army’s Joliet Corps Community Center. He did janitorial duties, worked in the food pantry, and helped with the Angel Tree program. He spent at least 20 hours each week working with Captains Dan and Wendy Faundez, the corps officers. But he didn’t get paid. Not a single cent. Martinez was working off 150 hours of court-mandated community service for a recent conviction of driving without a license.
“He’s a very conscientious worker,” said Capt. Wendy. “He always shows up on time, works really hard and is dedicated to the people we serve. It’s a pleasure spending time with him.”
Martinez hasn’t always heard these words of praise. His childhood was less than ideal; fraught with divorced parents, abuse and other atrocities. While he was a decent student, he wasn’t much interested in more than getting through school and getting home. He dabbled in drugs – selling and using, gangs and burglary. This started a long period of incarceration. “I’ve been in every jail in Illinois,” Martinez said. “I got my inmate number at Joliet.”
Everything took a turn for the worst in 2004 when Martinez took the car keys from his common-law wife and set off looking for a score. “We had no money,” he said, his voice breaking as he fought back tears. “But I needed that hit of crack. I left my wife and baby at home.” And he wouldn’t return home until 2015. Martinez broke into a storage unit and made off with a bicycle and other items to sell to pay for his drugs. “Funny thing is the cops pulled me over because they saw the bike hanging out of the window. I didn’t even get the crack.”
Martinez served 11 years for possession of stolen goods – a felony – while his daughter grew up without him. He enrolled in an inpatient drug program, getting sober for the first time in decades. He took correspondence courses and worked towards an associates degree. He found God. He actually had hope for the future.
After his release, Martinez completed additional court-mandated requirements and set about the business of finding employment. This proved more difficult as expected because he no longer had a driver’s license, which made the work-time commute unpredictable. Eventually Martinez lost his job. He was discouraged and depressed. He was ready to give up. So he just started driving – and was subsequently pulled over and found to be driving without a license. He was sentenced to court-mandated community service hours and found his way to The Salvation Army. “Since being here, my life has changed for the better,” Martinez said.
The Salvation Army paid his January mortgage payment so the family wouldn’t lose their home just when they’re starting to turn the corner. “Steven never asked for anything,” Capt. Wendy said. “But while working on the Angel Tree project he spoke about the difficulties the family was facing. I cried and told my husband that there had to be something we could do to help them. They were so close to succeeding.” The family was also connected with the food pantry program and matched with other community support.
One of those connections led to a good job in Joliet, ironically right next to the old prison. “I guess you could say I’ve come full circle,” Martinez said, smiling. His journey is not over yet. He has a few more goals left to achieve: obtaining his driver’s license and taking the final class to get his associate’s degree. But Martinez’s faith has been restored and he is looking ahead with hope.