Sentenced student finding place at U

Sarah Brownson
Staff Reporter
Go to school. Get a job. That’s what a judge said to a Willmar man last April.
The unusual decision requires 20-year-old Angel Hernandez to serve time at the University rather than behind bars.
Hernandez received his second chance after a January conviction of theft and gang-related charges from a 1999 incident in which he threatened store and mall employees at Kandi Mall near his hometown.
Kandiyohi County District Court Judge Donald Spilseth sentenced Hernandez to school because he said the alleged gang member could turn his life around; others disagree.
County attorneys are currently appealing Spilseth’s decision. The Minnesota Court of Appeals is expected to release an opinion in late October.
Spilseth took Hernandez’s high school diploma under consideration when he required Hernandez to pursue post-secondary education.
Prior to the University, Hernandez previously attended a community college in his hometown.
Instead of going to prison, Hernandez is on probation for five years. And school is only one of several conditions of the probation. He must also keep a job, pay his own way and live with a supportive group of peers.
Hernandez currently attends the University’s General College and lives with members of the Sigma Lambda Beta fraternity. The Latino-based multicultural group is trying to ease the new student’s transition to the University.
Despite all the current and past courtroom drama, his roommates say Hernandez is making the best of a complicated situation.
“He does his homework,” said roommate Raymond Ruiz.
Hernandez’s attorney Manuel Guerrero is the director of the Chicano/Latino Learning Resource Center and advises the fraternity. So when the judge sentenced Hernandez to school, Ruiz was the first to visit him while he awaited his release from prison.
While Hernandez is not a member of the fraternity, Ruiz said living with others of a similar culture is what the beleaguered youth needs right now.
He said Hernandez is just like any other college student. He complains about the same things, like getting up early in the morning.
“I think the pressure sometimes gets to him,” Ruiz said. If Hernandez makes a mistake, the consequences are worse: He could go back to prison and finish his sentence minus textbooks.
“He was derailed once, but that’s not going to happen again,” Ruiz said. “He appreciates things more.”
Hernandez declined to be interviewed.
For its part, the University is treating Hernandez like any other student.
“I am very glad Angel is here,” said Marjorie Cowmeadow, associate dean of General College. “He’s smart, a very nice young man, and I expect that he will do very well.”
A criminal conviction does not necessarily negate a student’s application to the University. Right now, the University does not ask questions about criminal history on its entrance application, said Vice Provost Craig Swan.
He said a number of schools across the nation, including the University, are considering the addition of such a question, but the debate has not gone far and it’s not without problems.
“You don’t want a requirement that’s going to get a lot of people having to report minor offenses,” Swan said.
However, if the University knows about a particular person’s history, it would be considered in the application process, and a decision that best reflects the needs of the University and the student would be made, Swan said.
The University cannot comment on Hernandez specifically, but a set of conditions for acceptance can be applied on a case-by-case basis, Swan said.
“For what he’s been through, he works hard, and he’s going to be successful one day,” Ruiz said. “He has a big heart.
Hernandez has his sights set on an engineering degree.

Sarah Brownson welcomes comments at [email protected]