FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A program at Fresno State is helping formerly incarcerated students break the cycle and turn their lives around while giving them the skills necessary to navigate college life.
Alex Banda is a college graduate. The 49-year-old just received his degree in psychology from Fresno State.
But it wasn't easy -- a closer look at his story offers inspiration.
Banda admits he grew up living the gang life and it eventually led to him spending several years in prison before he decided to change his trajectory.
"I never had any role models that went to college that I could say I want to be like them. I'm trying to provide that for the younger generation," said Banda.
Banda was part of Project Rebound, a program at Fresno State designed to help formerly incarcerated students reintegrate into society through higher education.
"They've been instrumental in helping me. They got the office here, they got support, tutors available, they go out of their way to help you," said Banda.
Jennifer Leahy is the program director and understands the importance of students having a support system.
"A lot of people assume that people get involved in criminal activity because they want to and they don't understand the complexities of what draws a person or pushes a person into that type of lifestyle," said Leahy.
Despite his checkered past and barriers he faced, Banda flourished in the program while graduating with a 3.8 GPA.
"It's emotional. The students in my project, in this program, it's not just my program but they become my students and their successes become very personal," said an emotional Leahy.
Banda would like to use his degree and past life experiences to help at-risk youth.
His graduation comes less than three years since the death of his son, Steven, who was tragically killed in a gang-related shooting at the age of 25.
"He was really proud of me. That's the last thing he said to me, like literally the last thing he said to me was he told me how proud he was of me," Banda.
Banda is not done with his education. The one-time active gang member aspires to become a lawyer and plans on applying to law school in the coming months.
"I'm the first to do this but I hope, I know I'm not going to be the last. I'm the first of many to come," said Banda.
Fresno State's Project Rebound helping formerly incarcerated