I don’t think my heart ever became evil until I engaged in more evil. If I continued the way I was, it would’ve been near impossible to get back to being a loving, caring, decent human being again. — Jojo Godinez
Jojo Godinez grew up in L.A. County surrounded by gangs. The night he joined one, he swore to represent his gang until death. Fights, shootings, and arrests followed, but his love of violence waned through the years as more and more of his friends died around him.
Amid the bloodshed, he met a homegirl, Dalia. At just 18 years old, they married in Vegas, but their honeymoon was interrupted when a crime Jojo committed brought him into court and eventually into a 45-years-to-life sentence. On the day he was found guilty, Dalia gave birth to their son.
Suicidal, Jojo lost himself in the evils of the jail, trying to forget his former life and even his family. It was during a stint in solitary confinement that he came to terms with his need for change. He asked God for forgiveness and resolved to never fight again.
Jojo’s nonviolent rebellion against the prison culture of hatred and racism was consistently met with death threats but he was willing to risk everything for his newfound faith. In prison after prison, Jojo spread peace, while his wife, Dalia, and their son faithfully waited for the day he finally came home.
The powerful true story of Jojo Godinez shows the incredible transformation of a man once written off as nothing more than a criminal.
Together LA had the opportunity to interview Amanda Warner, who is the co-author of Reformed: How a Life Sentence Became My Saving Grace, which tells the story of Godinez through his eyes. Below is the interview with Warner. The book releases today (6/26/18) and a book release celebration is scheduled for Saturday.
Together LA: You have a journalism background. Tell us about it.
Amanda Warner: I first became interested in journalism in high school. I was on my school’s newspaper staff for three years and became the editor-in-chief my senior year. My journalism advisor encouraged me to pursue writing and I decided to major in journalism in college. During college, I was a freelance reporter for my local newspaper, The Press-Enterprise, and I did a reporting internship there the summer before my senior year. I was also a copy editor on my college newspaper for two years and loved it. In my journalism classes, I learned how to research and tell a good a story, so I definitely used my journalism background to write this book.
TLA: Why did you decide to write this story?
Warner: I met Jojo in 2012 while we were both volunteering in a youth prison in Norwalk. We visited a unit, where Jojo shared about his life for about half an hour. His story was so moving and powerful, I couldn’t stop thinking about it long after we had all gone home. Months later, I contacted him on Facebook and brought up my idea about a book. For some reason, he was open to it and we began working together shortly thereafter.
TLA: Describe the co-writing process.
Warner: I interviewed Jojo for more than 50 hours over the course of 3 years. I would take the content from the interviews, organize it, and write section by section. I would come up with more questions as I wrote so the interview process was ongoing. I worked mostly alone, edited alone, but at the end, when it was all done, I had Jojo read through it twice. He noted where things were factually incorrect and I would make changes.
TLA: How did your faith in Jesus play into writing this book?
Warner: I think my faith in Jesus influenced my decision to write this story in the first place. I was drawn to it because of my faith and wanting others to know what God had done in Jojo’s life (and could do in theirs). I also feel that God gave me a supernatural perseverance to finish it. It was a very long process to write this book and I really don’t know how I finished it. I just kept working on it because I truly believed in the power of this story. And I believed that God could use this story to reach people who might also be in a dark place.
TLA: What do you want readers to come away with from reading the book?
Warner: I want readers to come away with hope. Jojo went through an unimaginably dark time, where he didn’t think he’d ever be free again, yet he never lost hope in a God who is more gracious than we can imagine. I am truly in awe of how Jojo used his life sentence to essentially become a missionary and reach people with the gospel who would otherwise be unreachable to the outside world. Even if a reader has never been to prison or in a gang, I think they can still come away inspired to think of how God can use the situation they’re in now, no matter how dark it is, for something good. For those readers who have been affected by gangs or prison, I hope they can be encouraged to make positive changes in their life, as Jojo shows that no one is too far gone, and it’s never too late for change.