Born in California, Mario trained in Mexico City to be a singer and actor. He appeared in Mexican productions of Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Man of La Mancha. Mario also toured the United States with Miss Saigon. After a few years on tour, Mario moved back to Tijuana to be with his family. He took a job at a car dealership in San Diego near the Mexican border. Mario received a SENTRI card which allowed him to cross the border more easily to get to work. Unfortunately, Mario abused that privilege. He agreed to drive illegal drugs across the border to make extra money. Then, one day, federal agents stopped him and discovered contraband in his vehicle.
“I spent nine days in the country jail,” Mario recalled. “I saw kids coming back after sentencing. They looked destroyed after getting five years or seven years. I realized that they did not get a change to prepare themselves. So, as soon as I got out on bail, I found Justin Paperny online. He gave me nine months’ worth of work to do. I did everything he told me to do. I did a lot of soul searching for the narrative.”
At first, Mario’s lawyer resisted the idea of submitting a personal narrative. Justin helped Mario communicate with his lawyer. Mario explained the importance of telling the whole story and his lawyer agreed. Mario also developed a life plan for the future. “Not only did I prepare for sentencing, I also prepared for my life after prison. My life was spinning out of control completely before my arrest. Thanks to the work I did with Justin’s team, I realized I still had a lot to live for.”
Mario’s Pre-Sentencing Report recommended a sentence of five years. At the hearing, the judge held up Mario’s narrative and said, “I read it.” The judge acknowledged Mario’s personal struggles then sentenced Mario to twenty-four months. Mario qualified for the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), so he served eleven months in prison plus four months in a halfway house.
Mario remembered: “I was already on the right track before I surrendered. I took all Justin’s advice about how to use my time in prison. I studied. I stayed away from trouble. I exercised. I weighed 230 pounds on my first day in prison. When I left eleven months later, I weighed 187 pounds. It really helped to have a plan in place before I got there.”
Today, Mario is earning a bachelor’s degree while singing on the Praise and Worship Team at Shadow Mountain En Espanol in El Cajon, California. He restarted his musical theater career with an upcoming leading role in Mexico. He has also been cast in a musical movie to be filmed in Mexico City. His older daughter recently graduated from New York University with a theater concentration. His son will soon begin the music program at Bureau of Manhattan Community College. Mario hopes to relocate to New York City to pursue his lifelong dreams alongside his children.
“My bad choices in this case were totally out of character for me. I learned my lesson and will never make the same mistakes,” Mario said. “The work I did with Justin’s team is still getting me through problems today. If you do the work consciously, it will help you get back on track in every way. I had a miraculous transformation in my life, so I want to share that message of hope with others.”