DescriptionVantner Cruz (24) talks with his friend Michael Glasser (56) about his experiences growing up Latino in Chicago. Vantner discusses his impactful encounter with the criminal justice system.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Vantner Cruz
- Michael Glasser
Recording LocationsFamily Matters
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00:02 Michael Glasser, I'm 56 years old. Today's date is November 14th 2005 where the office of family matters in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.
00:15 Illinois and I'm a mentor and a friend of vantner Cruz.
00:21 Matt Nick Cruz
00:23 I'm 24 today's date is November 14th 2015.
00:30 We're here at Family Matters Chicago, Illinois and my relationship to make is that he's a good Mentor and a great friend to me.
00:40 So start better tell me a little bit about your upbringing.
00:46 But my upbringing I was born in Los Angeles, California. I moved here to Chicago when I was 2.
00:57 My father brought his over here, my mother had family here. So we got situated really good really fast.
01:05 Growing up most of my life. I grew up here in Rogers Park area neighborhood.
01:12 This area has been really difficult to grow up in.
01:19 But I managed I grew up to learn how to cope with the situation of my living and the situation. Is that be in the minority here in Chicago.
01:33 Where you live in the area? Where is mostly African-American and you're like the only Latino here, it was really rough for me growing up, but my upbringing had to deal with violence surrounding me all the time.
01:52 Me having to learn how to live with that and decide which path I want to take it. Should I join the violins and continued on with the trend of The Stereotype that I was given or should I change my life? And that's what I did tell me about your family. So my family
02:13 My mother is really good. She's great. I love her to death.
02:18 She always gave me good advice always wanted the best for me. She know the situation I was in growing up, but she told me that there's always a way around it that guys with me to go and strive. Don't be like the rest of the everybody. I had people around me that were doing bad, but I manage my father's really great.
02:44 He always was the man in my life that told me the right ways of how to be a man.
02:52 We he has his flaws to as well, but I learned I learned from him and from his mistakes I grew and they made me a better person. I have my two siblings my brother and my sister are the reason I strive to be the best. And the reason I want to do better to show them that there's a better outcome in life that there's better things to do on your siblings older or younger than you are younger.
03:21 I have one older sister. She's in Mexico. I didn't grow up with her, but I talked to her a lot over.
03:29 Over the phone so you have her into other siblings yet. Okay guess so. So, you're the oldest in your family. Yes. I'm do this in my and your parents are still together. Yes. And what is your parents work? Yes, they do. What is your mom is a Baker at Simon brothers and my dad's assembly line worker at Juno Lighting shanor electric.
03:54 And basically what my dad does is build industrial lamps for companies and my mom but this in Baker so she baked Sara Lee cakes and they're delicious. Okay, so you will also have a large your family doing a very involved Network beyond your immediate family of uncles and cousins. And that guess I'll tell me a little bit about them. Well my family they're all hard workers. They all came here from Mexico to try to get a better life for us. Well for their family,
04:30 Growing up. My cousin's will.
04:34 Some of them decided to take a different path than the path I chose but I still love them. They showed me I learn from their mistakes, they made mistakes and I learned from that and and if they live in the neighborhood too many of them cry, so they've had a profound influence in your day-to-day life. Yes, they have. Yes, so seeing down and seeing what they do with seeing their activities that they do what kind of activities can you feel comfortable sharing with us or you just activities that aren't normal for for me to see when I was being when I was growing up so. Anything from gang violence to selling drugs.
05:16 To Jazz
05:19 Fighting being out in the street things of that nature. So just tell us about your life until say eighth-grader sewed. Were you on a good path up until C Graduation from 8th grade? I was on a good path and sit sixth grade. I had good grades. I was doing everything I needed to be done. But by the time I got 7 grade, I really started hanging out with my cousins a lot more.
05:49 But throwing up and seeing dumb.
05:52 Tired they had to survive in the area where the Latinos was in the mind a big group of people in the area.
06:02 They had to fight every day because they were constantly being picked on for being Latino cuz the north of Howard area when you were growing up was probably 80ish percent black left at American. Yes, and we live in the area. Like I have won the Rogers Park area where I live at is just one building for the Latinos and then the rest African-American densely populated part of the community guess so. I've seen them they used to fight everyday my uncles used to fight with some of the guys out here in the area because they have to pick on us. So see my father coming home bleeding.
06:44 That really mess with my head. So by the time I got to 7 grade, I really started getting involved kind of getting involved in that way. What do you mean getting involved because I started fighting a lot I started.
07:01 Going down the wrong path that really was leading me to around with dealing drugs. No, not at that time. Okay. So let's go on into high school years. And what was your life like in got you were taking by the time I reach a grade. I mean that was already. Like I said, I was fighting a lot that guy. I failed a grade. I had to go to summer school. I had to buy graduated in summer school, so I didn't get a chance to walk with my friends by the time I was in high school. That was when I really started
07:39 To get involved to give involvement in that life not the gang light cuz I didn't join again, but
07:47 I was involved in that life and I started sending drugs doing drugs. What kind of drugs marijuana with marijuana drink?
08:00 So I started smoking at the age of 13 that really kind of messed me up. I started skipping school.
08:08 I remember that in high school. I had out of the hold.
08:14 The whole four semesters. I only participated in like a quarter of it because I was either skipping school and just being outside the school and starting trouble. Did you face any consequences for skipping school? Yes. I did. I got temporary. I got temporarily withdrawn from school. My mother used to go there like every other week just to talk to the principal because of my behavior my actions. So everything I did had a consequence in my life and my mom had to pay for it by going up there taking time off of work just to go and see what I was doing. I remembered she got my report card and I had straight up.
08:58 Because I wasn't going to school and when I did go to school.
09:02 The few days I did I was.
09:05 Misbehaving and doing what I shouldn't have. How did you feel about yourself at that time? At that time? I didn't care I didn't I didn't really care. I didn't think about what consequences I was facing. So what happened?
09:21 So in sophomore year I got I got expelled like in the first quarter. I got expelled I was already 15 or 16. I got expelled.
09:35 They kicked me out of school. I was at home.
09:40 That that's what I wanted. I wanted to be at home. I didn't want to go to school that used to go around the school just to hang out with my friends, but some of them were already going there were going back in class. So they used to come out for lunch break and hang out with me and then go back in there and then that really stay up and in my mind I come nightquil.
10:01 I'm outside, and I can't go back inside. So.
10:06 I started thinking about my life.
10:09 When I was at home.
10:11 Dan really open my mind cuz that would like do I really want this for me and my father was also getting he was getting fed up with me, but he told me that if I didn't want to go to school then I have to work cuz what am I going to do? I'm not going to be in the houses.
10:30 Not doing anything until you put me to work when I was 16 at his job and I went through a through affirm.
10:44 And working there with you open my eyes. He told me this is what I do. I don't have an education. If you don't have an education you're going to end up here with me. What kind of work was it? It was but not lamp assembly. So it's really industrial Factory lines. Just working like a Good Shepherd stations.
11:06 And I was getting 825 an hour minimum wage and I'm like, well, this is not where I see myself in 5 years.
11:16 I want to be a better person. I want to do something with myself. I started thinking about my actions that brought me to that place.
11:30 Yeah, Family Matters got involved in my life. They really made a big impact on me and Family Matters being a nonprofit in the north of Howard area. Yes. And so tell me about your experience of Family Matters. What happened to start attending family matters when I was younger back in 7th grade when they first started messing up they really helped me.
11:52 They started mentoring me.
11:55 Just leading me on the right path. But when I got to high school, I kind of left Family Matters go So eventually news got out that I've got dropped from school because they were still involved in my life. So sometimes they'll go and ask about me in school and when they found out I got expelled.
12:17 They reached out to me and they told me.
12:21 Dad if I want to go back to school they can help me so they did everything in their power they could and
12:29 I quit my dad's job and I really got my head focus and I went back to school with the help of Family Matters. How did Family Matters help you they help me by going to different schools. I remember going to different high schools around the area with someone here from Family Matters and they were trying to enroll me but since the high school that was
12:56 In the neighborhood for me that was adjusted in the neighborhood for me was Sullivan high school. So other than their High School, I couldn't go to anywhere because I had bad grades. My attendance was poor so
13:10 When the high school right here in the north were Howard open up the holiday real Leadership Academy, they open up and they open the doors for me. It was a high school for troubled students and it was small class sizes. Not a lot of distractions.
13:28 And they really help me out and take started attending there with the help of Family Matters. Didn't you work for Family Matters to yes, that was after I'll keep calling them. So I started going to school.
13:42 Then my past actions help me.
13:47 Excelling when I went back to school. So I started doing my work. I started paying attention. I started participating in extracurricular activities.
13:58 I just started being more involved it with the high school. I used to stay late sometimes and that really helped me out by the
14:09 By my senior year. I was already had a 3.5 GPA. I was getting just as I was getting recognized for what I did coming from straight ups to do a 3.5 GPA really?
14:23 That you really made me proud of my parents proud. So the school recognize me by.
14:29 Giving me opportunities to go with them to all the different colleges.
14:37 Availa noise Stoll field trips to all the different colleges of Illinois. And then by that time President Obama was already going to going into office. So by that time they had like 15 positions open for the Washington DC trip for the inauguration. And since I was that really excelled in school. I was one of those 15 to go up there. So that was a wonderful experience for me. And I mean that was up in Washington DC and they explain like this is what hard work gets you like you get more opportunities in life.
15:14 And while I was in my senior year I was participating here in Family Matters get trying to get back by volunteering. So any little things from playing soccer with the kids helping them with their homework. I mean, it just really made me happy that after school. I got something to do. So all of this really helped me stay away from the gang life because not my time was going to other activities instead of being out in the streets selling and doing drugs and being with the gang members.
15:49 By that time I had grew up with some of the some of the guys here in the neighborhood. So they knew me. They knew I was in a gang member. They knew I wasn't really doing anything.
16:01 To put me in that category.
16:04 So they really love me alone. Okay, so this helped me out a lot because I didn't have to worry about watching over my back and getting beat up or anything for that sort of nature the
16:20 The officers police officers were still messing around with like me and my family because
16:29 Seeing a Latino and white and African-American neighborhood. It's like we're the ones dealing the drugs. Like we're the ones giving the other guys the drugs because of the stereotype that Latinos have all the drugs in.
16:46 That they're the ones providing everybody with the trucks. So I used to get picked on by the officers a lot, but
16:55 Yeah, but generally speaking by this time you were directed in a you had a direction you had some focus and you were ready to continue on with doing productive things in your life. And you didn't tell me about the Aether do ultimately work for Family Matters then by that time by the end of high school that had graduated.
17:20 I had graduated and by that time already had like a year experience here Family Matters just volunteering and the summer after I graduated. I went back to work with my father.
17:35 Because I needed money. So I while I was working with my father. I got a I got a call from one of the directors and Family Matters and she told me that she would like it. If and she'll give me the opportunity to be a part of Family Matters and work with them.
17:54 As soon as System Program Coordinator, so I immediately thought in the back of my head like it might even qualified for this position. Like I just got out of high school, but they they knew what I've been through they know my situation and they gave me the opportunity. So I started to work here for Family Matters as an assistant program coordinator, and how did it go? It went great. It went great. I worked here for 2 years.
18:25 Everything was great. They got me into college. I started going to community community college here. I started doing that and everything went great until an unexpected turn to call me if it were talking about the evening of January 29th, 2012. It was yes, it was the night. Okay, tell us what happened tell me what happened on that night me and my cousin went to my Godfather's house.
18:56 And we were watching the soccer game Friday little 12-pack with drinking a 12-pack up there.
19:03 And at the end of the night when the second game was over.
19:09 We decided to leave and we went out to the front.
19:14 When we were going downstairs, we heard people coming up. So the building is mostly our family in the building. So I didn't think nothing of it but it sounds like a 3 flat. Okay. So when I seen people running up look down and I didn't recognize them. I thought they were somebody else. They had black jackets black scally's I didn't know who they were. So automatically just from past experiences. I had in the neighborhood. I thought we were
19:49 Somebody was attacking us her we were getting beat up. So I turned around and started running back upstairs by that time away from these people get away from these people by that time. I got dragged down two stairs.
20:04 I didn't know who they were. So I immediately got up and struck one of them in the face.
20:10 And by that time I got bombarded by three more and I just got
20:16 Brutally beat on
20:19 What do you mean describing what you mean brutally beat on?
20:24 Then mean
20:26 Punched in the face kicked need
20:31 Kicked in the head need in the head.
20:39 And I didn't know what was going on. So I just ended up falling up in a ball and start taking the beating by that time. They were since I was balled up. I didn't know that the guys were police officers.
20:54 So they told me to stop resisting stop resisting.
20:58 And I didn't know what to do. So I just cuz they kept hitting me while they were saying this. I didn't know they were officers at the time until they started pepper-spraying me and they got my hands in handcuffs and my feet in handcuffs. So they picked I'd me and they started attacking me some more until I passed out.
21:23 By that time
21:26 I don't recall anything until I woke up in a Cell still pick Thai and I see officers standing above me saying you like to beat up on officers don't.
21:39 And I'm like, what are you talking about? And he just started attacking me again inside the cell.
21:45 And to the point where I got them conscious again.
21:51 Nice story short, they took me to 20. They took me to Saint Francis Hospital. I got checked out. My face was so disfigured from the beating that they give me and they end up trying to charge me.
22:07 Aggravated battery on a peace officer. So they try to put it against me saying that I attacked them first.
22:16 The whole time the case didn't go as the way I planned. So I bought the case for 3 years. What some when you were Were You released from the hospital and a binder with where did you go after the hospital after the hospital? They took me to 26th Street to the county in Chicago.
22:38 So they went through try to preliminary tryout went through all the system and I ended up spending.
22:47 1 month incarcerated in Cook County, was there an opportunity to post bail? Yes, a hundred fifty thousand fifteen 10% of that fifteen thousand fifteen thousand and what gas so I told my parents look I know you guys don't have this money.
23:05 And if you did I don't want you to waste that money on me.
23:09 Solely being here I was staying here for as long as I have to.
23:15 And again Family Matters got involved but in a situation did what?
23:21 They got me a lawyer and he worked my case pro bono. So he helped me get out that situation after the month.
23:33 So but during that time the the things I witnessed while I was in there, really.
23:41 Readycloud in my head. What do you mean? I had to deal with the games in their the things they do I was in I was in the maximum level of security view building. So that was in there with murderers on you. No prior record, no prior record at all. So that way what I had a the DUI misdemeanor, but they they gave me supervision and I served in that was it prior to that but when I went in there they put me in the maximum level security. So I was in there with murderers. How old were you at the time I was 20
24:24 So people that was a poor attempt murder aggravated robbery. So I was in there with a lot of dangerous people already had to watch an experienced something I shouldn't have at a young age.
24:40 So by the time I got out in a month, they let me out on house arrest.
24:49 I was in the house arrest for a year.
24:52 I remember getting out a week before Christmas.
24:58 And only reason I got out but because officers kept constantly coming to my house and I wasn't there because either I have permission to go to work and they will come by at different times and say I'm not I'm not in the house knowing that I'm at work and so they'll try to threaten me and say all we're going to take you back in like next time we come here you better be in the house or else so that really scared me. So I posted bail and got out of house arrest and still fought the case.
25:31 Where were you working now? I was still working at Family Matters. They gave me the opportunity to work for them after I explained my case and they did not judge me at all.
25:44 They were very supportive of me to let's talk about the your your case and your defense and the whole process so my case lasted for
26:00 To two years and
26:05 9 months Jose
26:08 2 years and 9 months. My defense is really strong in the beginning my Witnesses were there my my uncle my aunt my cousin that was with me. They were all my Witnesses and they were willing to testify against the officers for me. Heading beginning. What do you think happened? Why were the police in your building?
26:26 Thought they were in the building because they were chasing somebody else. So they're chasing somebody else don't need ascription. They had was a Latino went inside the building so you this is a case of mistaken identity. Yes, so they said and Latino bring inside the building. So when they see me automatically they just grabbed me and started being up on me. And the reason they were chasing this guy was because he was
26:52 Talking to the but he was talking negatively to the police. And so the person I'm out making fun of them and when they started chasing the guy he went inside his apartment while I was coming downstairs and the that's when are they answered in the crew charged with 3000? He's aggravated battery and resisting arrest. So tell us about what how could this case last for 2 and 3/4 years what happened at your court appearances every guy went to court every month every month officer either didn't show up or they had something to do anything from they're sick. They're on their honeymoon. They took their vacation.
27:38 Dumb just silly silly excuses. They'll make up just to make my Witnesses get more tensed up about the situation to give me to try to give in to each time. You went to court you brought your Witnesses with you. Yes, so that means they had to take time off of work.
27:56 I had to take time off of work and I mean this already took Alabama to plea-bargain and at the offers made by the state. Yes, there was in the beginning there was a lot of attempts by the night each and every one of them because I wanted to fight this case.
28:15 So I fought the case.
28:19 For 22 years in and 9 months and at the end.
28:25 Well and let me just repeat before you say at the end you.
28:30 Continually the case was set for trial yet for child each time. There was a state motion to continue. Yes, and how many times you think you were in court over?
28:45 I said at least 28 * 10 * 7 * 27 * how often were cases continue due to the state motion for continuance. Of time. And how did you react to this? I was I was upset. I was angry. I'd your Witnesses feel about that are we're upset and how did people from Family Matters feel who would come in court to support Dara disappointed because the justice system was unfair and didn't you what did your lawyer trying to do about this? He said there's nothing there's nothing he can do those are police officers and they have I guess they have more Authority towards that's so if they miss if they miss a court date. Still be there because they're still working for the state. So they eventually will come.
29:32 And you had a bond posted of how much at this point 5,000 and is it then then the arrange your lawyer wasn't just pro bono at that point. He so you signed over the whatever then proceeds from the band would be his feet is basically working for about forty-five hundred bucks. Yes. Okay. So ultimately what happened with this case what happened? What happened at the end was that?
30:01 I didn't know I don't know if the people from the courtroom didn't realize that the intercom was still on.
30:10 But why the intercom was still on. I overheard the judge and then the state talking about my case and I overheard the judge saying I really hope this Banner kid takes this take his plea because I'm not trying to deal with his case.
30:26 So automatically that was a red flag with me. What do you mean? I started thinking that this judge is going to be unfair took my case cuz
30:38 Seeing all the activities that was going on with the with police officers all around the world.
30:45 All around the world just Auto Injustice that was being done from people getting killed by police officers. And there's that they retain their job. I started thinking to myself of makes me think that one Latino and two witnesses is going to be the case with four officers and one of the officers became a commander now, so I should read that really just started.
31:10 Bringing thoughts in my head. So by that time I had gotten offered a plea to plead guilty to just three misdemeanors to the takedown. They'll take away the felonies and just give me two batteries and one resisting arrest and all I have to do was serve one year probation in the back of my head. I'm thinking if I keep fighting this case in the judge Finds Me guilty. I'll be serving and I'll have background felony convictions in my background so I decided to take the plea.
31:48 And I served one year probation. How do you spell when you plead guilty? I felt disappointed. I told my witness is that I'm sorry for making them wasted time.
32:02 I know this is really hard like every other month you're taking the day off just to come support me. I Knew You by this time and I think disappointed. Is that really a strong enough word to how you really felt inside?
32:15 But I had a lot of feelings disappointed mad angry.
32:20 Violated violated. What do you mean?
32:25 Dad that was forced to
32:28 That was supposed to the point where I had to take the bleach, what did your lawyer suggest you do my lawyer suggests that?
32:38 This should be the best the best thing for me because again is for officers and to be the testimony of four officers is really hard.
32:50 So you plead guilty you served your your probation in how did it all go by this time? I started by the time I was fighting my case. I was working for a major Tech firm.
33:06 What were you doing? That was a data center technician?
33:10 And a full-time job as a full-time job. What kind of angry making contract just 20 an hour? So I have went back to school during the disdain. This this is the whole time. I was being I was fighting my case. So I went back to school. I got a I got a technical the technical certificate. I got a lot of certificates for that I started working for it is large technical company and yeah by the time my case was over.
33:44 I I got offers. I got offered a permanent position for the company but when they did a background check on me all this came up and really took a turn for the worse. When did this happen October 29th, 2015. I got let go of my job and my position.
34:06 Because of my background is a full year after you took the plea. Yes in about three years after the incident itself. Yes about a month ago. You work to do you applied for a promotion and to get a full-time employment with the tech company? Yes. And did you have recommendations from people within your firm? Guess I had the manager and his manager give me recommendations for that position and because of the work I did for them. So they were others like six other contractors and they had three available positions And one of the positions is offered to me because of the hard work I put into my job so
34:48 The human resource department for the agency which was in another city and state. Yes, they decided I'll be a liability for the company cuz because of my past record past record showing three convictions for missed a Class A. Misdemeanors did was there any attempt made by the company to reach out to you to understand the context? No.
35:11 So you lost your job after working there for how long a year in 3 months?
35:19 And with
35:22 Top-level performance and recommendations from your superiors. Yes. How did you feel when you get let go?
35:30 I felt ashamed of myself. I feel like I disappointed in myself because I work so hard and
35:39 When I plead when I did pretty guilty, I was informed that I will have issues but most companies don't look at misdemeanors as they would have felonies. So it really brought me back to the beginning and I I mean I kind of just broke. What do you mean broke?
35:57 I started thinking that should I go back to my old Life Style my old habits because I'm pretty sure I'm never going to get an opportunity like this, but I started thinking and thinking hard that if I survived three years of dealing with this case and overcome their this is another issue I should overcome and I'll get over it and I will prosper of the situation but tell me if Primary Emotion that you felt after when all this hit
36:31 I was really depressed really depressed. Did you feel like you let anybody down? Yes. I felt like I let the people's the weather people from Family Matters down all the work and support that they gave me and I really didn't feel like telling them anything. I didn't feel like telling you anything about it as well. But you guys helped me out so much that it's okay to talk to you guys and you guys going to judge me like you're the Emily. Do you feel anything towards your family? My mom was sad with me, but she told me to keep my head up and keep my to keep praying to God and eventually things will work out.
37:14 Which they will tell me.
37:24 Feeling do you have towards?
37:28 The criminal justice system
37:31 I really don't I really don't care about the justice system justice system is unfair and they treat minorities poorly. They do not take people's actions into consideration.
37:44 The judge you just by the way, you look and I really don't.
37:50 Field that the justice system is doing right now. Did you ever consider a civil case for the abuse and the beatings that you took? How did that pair out? No, I didn't because I was under the impression that if I plead guilty. I can file a civil lawsuit against them.
38:11 Did you talk to your lawyer about a civil case gas? And what was the response the response was that he's a criminal? He's a criminal lawyer not Allah Allah a civil lawyer that they have to look for a civil lawyer, but I didn't get any recommendations or anything for a civil lawyer. If you feel like you were equipped and capable of figuring this out or is that $10, Wyoming? Yeah, it was overwhelming for me and with me pleading guilty. I just really didn't have the energy to keep going with them with this. So what's your plan in the future here? Where are you at now my plan in the future just to learn from this lesson and learn from my. Lessons and grow from it continue to grow. Don't let this bring me down and I will eventually get another job and continue what I've been doing. Don't let small things like this get me down and I will eventually succeed and continue on with my career.
39:07 I know you'll be very successful. So you learned some personal character traits here with what is that?
39:16 Personal traits
39:19 Personal traits is to donate.
39:23 What lesson did you learn? Why would you summarize it?
39:28 But don't let things in life gets you down because life is hard and you got to learn from the mistakes in the situations that you're in and grow from those mistakes. And if I let those mistakes bring me back down to the path. I was in when I was in high school, then that's what I'm going to be stuck. I need to grow from it and continue on with life last question. If you're in the neighborhood if you see the policeman on the street, how do you react towards them?
39:57 I look at them. I seen them before and I kind of get angry at them because this is what happened because of them, but I just let it go. Let it go. I don't let it bother me, and I continued on with my life, and if they haven't messed with me, they haven't pulled me over anything. So at the end of the day, I'm just doing what I got to do just to survive. You're a wonderful man. You're going to be an inspiration for many people and I encourage you and know you'll continue to fight the fight and act with integrity and you'll be a major success and pleasure to know you'll be your friend. Thank you.