Carmen Garcia is the executive director of Root & Rebound. Before joining the Zócalo program “What Is a Good Job Now?” For the Formerly Incarcerated—supported by The James Irvine Foundation—Garcia joined us in the green room to talk about psychology lessons, San Francisco, and her childhood dream of becoming a senator.
What is at the top of your Oscars Best Picture list—of any year?
Father of the Bride.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A senator. We used to work the fields. I started at the age of 5 with my parents. This was in Texas. We used to travel to different states during the summer. So we never really had summers. And so after seeing so much growing up, I thought, Is this our life? Is this how it has to be? My father worked two jobs. My mother worked two jobs. And we were still poor. I just couldn’t understand. I remember when my parents wanted to buy a house, the bank turned them down. They said they had to pay cash for a house. Just seeing all those inequities and not understanding but knowing that this wasn’t right—people like me don’t own businesses, don’t own houses. As I got older, I said, I want to be a senator. I want to change the world. I want to change the laws—whatever it is that I have to do. I want something different. But, the problem was that people like me were not invested in. It killed my dream.
You studied psychology at City College of San Francisco. What was one memorable class you took there?
Abnormal psychology. It was understanding—not necessarily why I did what I did, or why people do what they do—but just understanding how things like your trauma, your past, if not resolved or addressed, can show up in different ways.
What’s one thing you love about the Bay Area?
The weather. The people: just very open, very accepting.
What’s one place you like to go in San Francisco?
Dolores Park. And Ocean Beach.
What’s something on your bucket list?
Write a children’s book in Spanish. [To share] children of incarcerated people’s perspective, and then the parents’ perspective. We fail to realize the impact incarceration has on our kids—being apart from them, and what happens during those times when we’re away. [The book could] help a child understand that it’s not that mom and dad don’t love you—sending that important message.
What’s something you wish you could tell people who are incarcerated, who are about to be released?
Don’t give up. Have faith in yourself. We don’t exist alone in the world. You’re worthy, you’re worthy. You’re worthy of opportunities. You’re worthy of a second chance you’re worthy of good jobs.