STOCKTON, Calif. (KTXL) — After his brother was killed in a gang-related shootout, Julian Balderama said he gave up hope and turned to a life full of crime, vengeance and violence.
“I just became an endless cycle of violence and incarceration after that,” Balderama said.
In his downward spiral, he said he managed to influence those around him.
“Do you remember this? I said, ‘Look at each other right now because in a few years right now, half of you are going to be dead, half of you are going to be in prison for life,’” he said.
But now, Balderama said he has transformed that impact into a source of positive change.
“And the love that I have for people to still go into battle, but we’re fighting for something different now, we’re fighting for a better community,” he told FOX40.
Balderama is one of the dozens of men who are now a part of Advance Peace Stockton, the organization that works with the community’s most violent offenders in which mentorship, resources and — the most controversial of all — a cash stipend are provided.
When Advance Peace was first introduced to the city of Stockton, critics dubbed it “cash for criminals.”
Program Strategy Manager Nuri Muhammad said that money is often used to help participants with basic needs.
“We’ll give you an incentive because it actually saves the city of Stockton money,” Muhammad said. “When you look at the fact that for every homicide that happened in San Joaquin County and Stockton costs taxpayers $1 million.”
Another point of contention is what’s known as transformative travel, where the once violent offenders are often taken on trips — sometimes to Disneyland.
“Kind of opens your mind to the possibilities of something other than your neighborhood, of your hood that you’ve been in all of your life,” Muhammad said.
Muhammad said that 87% of the fellows are not suspects in new gun-related crimes.
“All of the fellows that we work with, they’re still alive,” Muhammad said. “That’s the main thing, no one, none of the people we have worked with have been shot or killed.”
Balderama said Advance Peace is his new calling and he continues to recruit young men from his past, helping them stay aligned on a better present and a better path.
“It’s the way that I changed my view of life,” said intern Napoleon Perea. “I want them guys that are still out there in the streets to change their view of life the same way I did.”