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Former NYC Latin Kings gang member goes from being a prison inmate to Ivy League graduate

May 15, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Former NYC Latin Kings gang member goes from being a prison inmate to Ivy League graduate (SUSAN WATTS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

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A former member of the Latin Kings gang spent seven years behind bars on assault and weapons charges before he decided to turn his life around.

Richard Gamarra, a 28-year-old Queens native, is scheduled to graduate from Columbia University on May 17th. The graduation symbolizes a total turnaround from the lifestyle he chose as a 16-year-old.

Gamarra, who is the youngest of five immigrants from Colombia, succumbed to peer pressure in high school and joined the Latin Kings.

While enrolled in Holy Cross High School in 2004, a 911 call landed him in hot water when authorities searched his book bag and discovered a loaded gun.

Richard Gamarra said his daughter, Izabella (l.), motivated him to succeed.\ (GAMARRA FAMILY PHOTO/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

“I was a bad kid,” Gamarra told the New York Daily News. “I was getting beat up. I knew I needed a weapon to defend myself.”

Gamarra’s association and criminal activity with the Latin Kings landed his behind bars at 19-years-old. “I was in a dark place. It was rough,” Gamarra added. “I didn’t want my life to be like this.”

A Columbia University professor, who instructed prisoners at Woodbourne Correctional Facility, recognized the potential in Gamarra and offered to help him turn around his life.

Richard Gamarra’s life changed when he met Robert Fullilove (l.), a Columbia professor teaching at an upstate prison. Fullilove inspired him to enroll at Columbia. (SUSAN WATTS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Gamarra had his little girl come to visit him in prison, and he realized that he needed to make some changes.

“I remember a 4-year-old trying to squeeze through a 12-by-5 slot, trying to get to me,” Gamarra remembers. “That broke me. I said to myself, ‘I need to go home to that girl.’”

He chose to follow his teacher to Columbia University after he was released in 2013.

He then obtained a bachelor’s degree in public health.

Gamarra spent seven years at the Woodbourne Jail in upstate New York. (MEDIC18/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Soon, Gamarra will be graduating from Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health with a master’s degree.

Humbled by the chance he was given, Gamarra said he is appreciative to the professor who helped him choose a new path.

Now, he is an influence to young people in his community where he reminds them to pick the right track in life by telling them, “Don’t be like me in high school.”

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