Ernie's Voyage to NLK9s
by Ernie Serrano
I have been meaning to write about my experiences and the road that led me to cross paths with the New Life K9s program. I will admit this is not an easy task for my mind takes me in different directions in the quest to find and capture the words that will best illustrate my intent and experience. For that matter, with your permission I will begin sharing with you a little bit about my life.
The tragedy that my life became did not begin with my upbringing or dysfunction in the household, albeit, we had our fair share of problems, stemming from financial burdens. Therefore, if I am to be honest I am admit I’m my own tragedy. This tragedy which I became began at the age of 12 years when in my infinite wisdom I decided to forego all adult instruction for my own reasoning.
I found a certain lifestyle captivating and assumed it was going to be my gateway out of the kismet my family and I were in.
I subjected myself to a fair share of misfortune beginning with being assaulted like I was an adult by my own stepfather; not to justify an adults actions but to this day I cannot say I held recentment towards this man for I know that I had already compromised my moral integrity and was on a fast spiral downwards and (to this day) I believe I drove him to it. However, I will tell you the effects of this incident lasted into my thirties, for the helpnlessness I felt that day set me off on an aggressive course that only fueled my already warped belief system.
It was this warped belief system that I had adopted, primarily because I was finding influences outside of my family unit more attractive. These influences would lead me to live out a very destructive life, at the age of 15 years I had convinced myself that it was okay to chase financial gains at any cost (or expense to the criminal element.) Never mind what my parents or any decent adult in my life instructed me on as they made every effort to raise me right. I thought I had it figured out listening to the wrong adults.
My life would eventually take me to running the streets and making money from selling drugs, robbing drug dealers, working with shop shops and any other illicit racket I could get myself in. By the time I turned 17 years I was facing a life sentence for multiple homicides.
Losing my freedom and being sent to some of the worse prisons in California was not enough to deter me. In my ignorance it was the natural step to my criminality so if I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison it would be on my terms, or so I reasoned. After spending more than a decade in solitary confinement and realizing that whatever my intent my life had amounted to nothing. Not only was I realizing the error of my ways but I saw myself for who I had become and didn’t life it!
At this juncture in my life I knew I had to make drastic changes. I didn’t know what the future would hold but I knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t continue in the lifestyle. My dejection for the way I lived all those years was such that I didn’t care about not knowing the unknown (if that makes any sense.)
Eventually I severed my ties with any criminal clique and began the long process of getting my life together and trying to make up for what I couldn’t undo, by living right and doing right by and for others. At this stage I wasn’t certain if I would ever get out again but that had not been my focus. My only concern has been to contribute however and whenever I can and to never hurt anyone else again.
I have been successful in this regard, the voyage has not been easy for there are many challenges I had to overcome, within and externally, but I have managed. I believe God has had his hand on me even when I didn’t have any regard for myself.
I have been blessed with many opportunities to give back and continue working on myself by being involved in very worthy projects, like participating in victim awareness workshops, mentoring youth through an at risk program, facilitating various self-help groups, organizing drives/events for cancer survivors, special olympics, and so forth.
Taking part in these wide range of projects has helped me mature, re-shift my perspective and outlook on life, reconnect with my emotions (I had closed myself off for many years), but I think one of the most important things I could have done was find my self-worth because it helped me find the value in others (in turn I no longer justified the willingness to hurt other criminals), which led to my recapturing my humanity.
Recapturing my humanity has been one of the most liberating growth experiences and blessings I’ve had because it has also kept me focused on not only finding the worth in others but respecting life itself. This was the mindset I had when I heard about New Life K9s potentially coming to the yard.
I wanted the experiences because I thought it was in keeping with my willingness to give back, especially since it was to our veterans and first responders. As an added bonus I wanted to satisfy the kid in me by being able to play with dogs, since I’m a dog lover and had not touched a dog in over 33 years.
I braved the interview and I can honestly say my life has not been the same since. There has been a paradigm shift. If you were to ask me if I would have thought I was going to grow as much as I have as a person when I first joined New Life K9s I would have not been close with any answer. The experience has been one of the most challenging but it has also been the most rewarding. Prior to New Life I thought I had already reached the levels of compassion and humanistic attitude one can have. I was wrong!
Although I believe I am on course with the values and ideals I exercise today I would have never captured the love and total free giving of myself if it wasn’t for the full responsibility I have in taking care of the little lives I have been untrusted with, from Koa (my first bundle of fur), Delta, and Finn my latest little terrorizer (smile).
I have never been responsible to such measures other than myself. Yes I know what is it is to love and care for another and be there for them. However, been there for someone on occasion is nothing near the experience of having to be here for these little lives whom are fully dependent on us. To have to care for Finn on a day to day basis and shower him with the love that we all have to give is priceless. This is something I didn’t get a chance to do for my own kid, so to be able to do it with this little life is a gift only God can allow and I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. It has hallowed me to be able to exercise and express the better parts of me!
Inmate handler Ernie is working at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Fresno County.
Click the link below to view the dogs in training at PVSP.