He's also lucky. After all, there aren't many employers willing to give a convicted felon a second chance -- or even a first one.
Less than a year ago, Antonio was a full-fledged gang member -- stealing video games, appliances and whatever else he could grab after breaking into homes, putting in work for his gang. Over the years, Antonio has committed at least 10 burglaries -- the ones he can remember.
He stands about 6 feet, 2 inches with a medium build, and his once bald head now sports a neat, short haircut. Instead of packing a gun and an attitude, he now keeps school books and a Bible in his car -- for night school at Merced College and Bible study at a local church during the week.
Dropping out of his gang may have been a heaven-sent decision, but it has nonetheless earned the ire of his former friends who remain in the gang. Someone shot at Antonio's car two weeks after he was released from jail, shattering some of the windows.
(Because of his recent past and threats to his life, Antonio is not being identified by his real name. For the same reasons, his previous gang affiliation isn't specified in this story.)
Nowadays, Antonio gets up around 3 a.m. for his full-time job, where he earns $8 an hour as a label cutter. In the afternoon, he's off to Merced College, where he's enrolled in four classes this semester with the goal of eventually transferring to a four-year university. He's paying his way through school with his earnings and financial aid.
It's not easy -- but then again, few things about Antonio's life ever have been.
He was born the fourth of nine children in San Jose, the son of Mexican immigrants: a stay-at-home mom and a father, who earned a living as a trumpet player performing in a mariachi band.
His father spirited his family around the country for his gigs, moving from San Jose to Atlanta and then to Puerto Rico. While in Puerto Rico, his mother decided she wanted her children to grow up in the mainland U.S., where they could get a better education.
By the time Antonio was in the fourth grade, his father decided to stay in Puerto Rico, where he was appearing on television shows and performing -- although Antonio said no one in his family knew how much money he was making.
Antonio, along with his mother, brothers and sisters, moved to East Los Angeles. His father promised to support the family, saying he would eventually rejoin them in the States. "We didn't have any money when we moved," Antonio recalled. "He would send money, but barely enough."
A new life in Merced
Antonio knew his mother wanted to start a new life in a town with a slower pace -- and Merced seemed like the place to make it happen. One of his mother's friends let the family stay in a small guest room in a home off Bear Creek Drive for about a month.
Four or five of Antonio's family members slept in the guest room, while the other siblings slept in the family room.
Finding their own place to live, however, would be a challenge, as few apartment managers wanted to rent to a family with so many children. The family finally moved into a small two-bedroom apartment in the Loughborough area on Denver Avenue, thanks to the generosity of a fellow church member who decided to give Antonio's mother a break.
It was the first of many apartments the family would migrate to throughout the city (some of his siblings remained in Los Angeles). After moving to Merced, Antonio and three of his brothers lived in one bedroom, while his three sisters lived in the other. Antonio's mom and his youngest brother, who was 1 month old, lived in the main room. It was a tight squeeze -- but for Antonio, it was just a part of everyday life.