For anyone who has ever thought that they’re just too far gone to change their life, Joshua Lopez’s inspiring transformation is proof that anyone is capable of incredible change.
Josh Lopez has a checkered history. He started experimenting with drugs when he was 12 years old as a Sarracino Middle School student and it didn’t stop there. Over the course of the next 10 years, the inside of a jail cell became a familiar home for him.
“I was stuck in the repetitious cycle of drugs, alcohol and trying to be somebody I wasn’t,” he said. “In reality, I was wearing a façade to fit in. I was persuaded to be this person by the influences that were happening around me.”
His home life wasn’t much better. When his mother left, his dad tried to hold the family together. “He raised us four kids,” he said. “But watching my mother struggle with addition issues was devastating. It was rough growing up. It’s still tough to talk about today.”
Lopez turned the only friends he thought he had – the local gang that was wheeling and dealing drugs. “Being young, you’re trying to find you identity versus role confusion. I was trying to be that ‘thug’ person and was fighting with everyone,” he said.
As a teenager, his life was spent serving sentence after the sentence for dealing drugs. He admits the only reason he graduated from alternative high school was because he was on probation and had to wear an ankle bracelet. “If I didn’t go to school, I'd have to sit in jail,” he said.
AIM High offered him help. “They didn’t just throw us away. I was held back a year, but the teachers kept encouraging me to get my diploma. Our principal, Mr. Savedra, even brought me homework in jail so I could keep up. He was a great inspiration to me,” Lopez said, noting he was the first person in his generation to graduate from high school in his family.
After graduation, Lopez kept getting into trouble. His juvenile probation file was inches thick so when he went to court, he felt many individuals thought he was a lost cause. “The only reason people wanted to be around me was to get drugs or to get high. I wanted out of that cycle. I had no true friends. Finally, I flushed the drugs I had … out of true brokenness I found peace and forgiveness,” he said.
Sitting in jail, Lopez admits he was broken down to nothing. He was spiritually drained and was wasting away physically from doing that cycle of drugs. “I was broken but not shattered. I just felt there as something more, but I couldn’t find it,” he said.
Thanks to his girlfriend and now wife, Lopez had a rebirth of faith.
“She displayed this character to me of being loved and having this freedom from the world. She wasn’t jealous or envious of anyone,” he said. “She showed me through her action who Jesus was.”
The positive changes in his life didn’t come easy.
“I was selling drugs out of her family’s house and I wrecked the only car they had,” he said. “Today we’ve formed a relationship that is unreal in the terms of forgiveness and love. They have seen firsthand God’s saving grace in my life. They’ve watched the transformation in my life and have faith in me that God can do the impossible.”
Living a life after drugs wasn’t easy. Lopez admits it was downright difficult at times. Yet, he wanted to help others.
It was a career in nursing that Lopez and his wife decided to pursue. After a series of more twists and turns than one can imagine, Lopez and his wife received a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
In his book, It All Started with a Gum Wrapper, Lopez writes about that day when he graduating from the nursing program.
“We all had white coats with silver and gold pins. My dad was in constant disbelief that I was graduated as a nurse. I guess it would be extraordinary to witness a dramatic transformation such as mine – to go from drug-dealing gangster, drug addict, low life, to a nurse,” he wrote. “I felt brand new in my white coat. … This time I didn’t feel embarrassed or humiliated. I felt accomplished and successful.”
This time, he said, the pieces of his life were finally coming together. He was sober with a purpose to help others. There was satisfaction in his soul.
“I knew for once in my life, I would be able to get a job and be a provider and giver instead of a consumer,” he recalls in his book. “Nurses are needed everywhere. I could finally have a career. Instead getting caught up in the mix with drugs and acquiring felonies, I acquired a degree in nursing. I was thrilled.”
Lopez and his wife, Tiffany, began their nursing careers at Socorro General Hospital. He started a med surgical nurse and later in the emergency room. Today he works at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque.
His thuggish lifestyle is gone and he’s replaced it with one of joy. “Everyone has good inside them,” he said. “Sometime we just have to show them that Jesus loves each of us.”
Editor’s Note: Joshua Lopez will host a book signing for his book, “It All Started With A Gum Wrapper” from 6 to 8 p.m., Saturday, May 4, at Macey Center in Socorro. The book is the story of his personal journey of redemption.