Student moves beyond violent past

Efrain Padilla draws on gang experience to fuel positive interactions


“This might be it, [my life] could all end today.”

Efrain Padilla once woke up to those thoughts. Today, his mornings are filled with more positive affirmation.

Padilla, a student at Delta College, was close to meeting death at 18 during what seemed like a regular night out with friends. He took 15 bullets that night.

In the years since, Padilla has worked to transform his life, moving away from gang life to become an inspirational speaker whose experiences have earned him an audience with Mayor Michael Tubbs and Grammy Award-winning artist Common among others.

It’s a far cry from the night Padilla assumed he died.

He was rolling a joint in his car outside of his friend’s house, focused on a temporary escape from reality, when a tap on his window brought him back.

Padilla couldn’t escape, he was a gangbanger.

The man who tapped decided Padilla’s life would end at that moment as he unloaded 15 bullets into Padilla’s face, head, back, and arms.

“[I was hit in] every part of my body, my mouth was hanging [off my face],” he said.

Events like this are expected in the lifestyle of such a person, whether or not he was in that car that night didn’t matter. If he didn’t meet those bullets then, they likely would have met elsewhere, he said.

Padilla was rushed to a hospital by a friend whose vocal support kept him conscious.

“I just remember I was dead, I gave up,” he said, “I tried to yell but I couldn’t, I was already dead.”

His surviving conscious observed as his hospital-mate was being strapped to a steel table, preparing to undergo an operation of his own to recover from a single bullet wound in his chest. That man didn’t survive.

In the coming days, “doctors from everywhere all over Cali (Bay Area, Socal, etc.) woke me from my sleep telling me I’m a miracle. I was like… [get the] f**k away from me,” he said with a laugh.

Padilla scraped the line between life and death.

So how did it come to this? Padilla was once a happy, innocent child.

“It starts when you are young,” Padilla said. “For me, I had no father and my mother was always working trying to provide. She barely spoke any English.”

Padilla stopped going to school at 14, a freshman in high school. For him, once the school bell rang he became angry at the cards he was dealt.

“These other kids are going home to their nice families, we are over here worried about getting jumped and finding a way to eat,” he said. “Once we got out of school, that’s when sh*t got real, now it’s survival mode. That’s why [school] went out the window.”

He would watch people in his neighborhood pull up in cars and shoot. He himself shot at people and was shot at. He was in and out of incarceration and was lost in a senseless life. All of this due to, in his words, “gang stuff.”

“All you want as a kid is praise and comfort,” he said. “And these [gang members] were the only ones who gave that to me. They made me feel like I had a purpose and gave me confidence.”

He did not return to school until around 10 years after dropping out when he went to get his GED, a life-changing decision that came to him when he most recently got out of prison.

“I tried to go back to work at a warehouse and physically, mentally, I just couldn’t do it. I got hernias and shattered bones, a plate in my arm, bullets next to my spine, above my heart, my arm was so swollen from working that I had to go back into surgery. They kept me in the hospital for 16 days and I almost lost my arm. That’s when I thought ‘I have got to do something,’” he said the final word with such a force that feels like absolutely anything he chose would be better. “That’s when I got my GED.”

He started at Delta College in Fall 2018. Padilla today faces issues that are meant for students: finding his way through Canvas, MyDelta and other student work.

“I didn’t know I was capable of doing these things, getting an education and living a normal life,” he said. “It’s hard, it’s a culture shock. I didn’t know what Canvas was, I didn’t know how to write an email. I was overwhelmed after my first day, little things like this overwhelmed me.”

Through the positive environment that he calls Delta, Padilla found his way to the Stockton Office of Violence Prevention, which in turn opened the door to a new life.

He now speaks with city officials regarding gang violence prevention. He has been a guest speaker at Modesto Junior College, has been visited by Stockton’s Tubbs, conversed with Grammy Award-winning artist Common, and most recently was flown on a trip to Long Beach to a gang violence convention centered around him.

“I am so blessed,” he said. “My whole family made it out of that life.”

His purpose, he has found, is to help everybody in any way he can. He has a goal to give back to Stockton, and to be a voice to anybody who thinks they don’t matter.

Some issues today, aside from those basic student struggles, are to ensure the city officials he speaks to are serious about their efforts to help the city.

He’s found “[some officials] speak about me all the time and when I ask for help, they won’t even help me.”

Padilla looks to impact the kids who are growing up under the same messy circumstances he did.

“There is nothing in Stockton for the younger kids, something as simple as affordable sports, [for me growing up] even if the sports were like $50 per child, there are seven of us!” he says with the most dumbfounded expression. “Give the kids some resources, a safe spot to hang around, counseling, anger management, substance abuse counseling. I feel like that would make a huge impact.”