Beach Voices: A life-changing journey from addiction, incarceration to a master’s degree

Published May 3, 2023

Never let your past define who you are today.

To get where I am now has taken a long journey.

For more than 40 years, I once spent my life engulfed in my addiction.

I couldn’t stop putting a needle in my arms. I was in and out of juvenile facilities from the age of 11 and throughout my adolescence.

At 18, after I’d graduated from high school, I was offered the option to join the military or go to prison.

I spent four years in the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged. Even so, I immediately resumed my previous behavior after being released from jail. Throughout the following 30 years, I found myself in and out of prison. Gangs and prisons was the only life I knew. 

I started my journey in recovery over 10 years ago, and almost nine years ago, I began my educational journey. I started at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, and 3 ½ years later, I transferred to the Beach in 2018. I graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Joseph Valdez with diploma

While at The Beach, I got involved in Project Rebound, a program that recruits and supports formerly incarcerated students looking to advance their education at CSULB. 

During my last two years in undergrad, I made straight A's and the President's Honor List the final two semesters. I also qualified for the Dean's List because I finished with a 3.67 GPA. I'm now getting ready to graduate with my Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.

I've had nothing but a beautiful experience here at the Beach. All my professors in the MSW were the best. However, I would be remiss if I didn't give a shout-out to a couple of professors who had a significant impact on this educational journey of mine: Associate Professor Steven Osuna, Ph.D., and Associate Professor Esa Syeed, Ph.D., both at the Department of Sociology.

The love and respect I have for those two are immeasurable. Both were instrumental in my pursuit of my MSW at The Beach. I was hired over two months ago. After graduating, I started my employment with an organization that works with system-impacted adolescents, formerly incarcerated young adults and older adults. This is my dream job, to give back to the community that I had robbed for so many years. I really do have a life beyond my comprehension.

Joseph Valdez at Beach sign

Joseph Valadez ‘20 will receive his master’s degree in social work May 17. He is a proud product of The Beach’s Project Rebound program, aimed to help formerly incarcerated students.  

Beach Voices is an occasional feature that allows members of The Beach community – students, faculty, staff and alumni – to share their firsthand experiences. If you would like to be considered, send submissions labeled “Beach Voices” to