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Peace after a life in crime

19 min read

It took Jose Lara around 50 years to figure out his life.

What started on the streets of Los Angeles. His youth was full of crime. Always in trouble with the law. One bad decision after another. Today Jose, 52, is the owner of LA Graphics and Design in Hobbs. His business on 1034 E. Bender recently held its grand opening.

It is a dream come true for Jose, a convicted felon who worked his way to becoming a respected businessman and a positive in the Lea County Community.

“But it wasn’t easy,” he said, “It took a long time for this to happen.”

Back in the day

Jose is the youngest of 10 children, growing up in San Bernardino, Calif. His older brothers all joined the military.

“Me being the baby of the family the rule in the military is that one boy had to stay home,” he said. “So I stayed home and got in trouble. I hung around with the wrong crowd.”

His life of crime broke him from his family. His second oldest brother, Frank, became an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy. When their mother moved in with Frank’s family, Jose wasn’t invited. His life of crime had become too toxic.

“We were in court and I remember Frank telling the judge, ‘I can’t have him living with me. I’m a deputy. I have guns in my house,’” Jose said, “and me being the stupid one, I said ‘Yeah. I’ll get one of those guns and shoot you with it.’ That statement put me in a boys home.”

Which he eventually ran away from. Then came the stays at juvenile halls and foster homes and his escapes.

He had chances to get out. There were opportunities for him to turn his life around. A lifetime L.A. Dodgers fan, Jose was in a juvenile hall when he wrote a letter to then Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda. He did it as a joke, never thinking Lasorda would respond, but he did.

“We were on lockdown when (Lasorda) asked permission for me to watch a Dodgers game,” Jose said. “The Dodgers were playing against the Pirates in Pittsburgh and Vin Scully made a shout out to a ‘No. 1 fan,’ and mentioned my name. From then on Mr. Lasorda and I have been two peas in a pod. I can call Dodger Stadium today and say I need five tickets for tonight’s game and they would be at will call. I should have turned my life around then, but it didn’t happen.”

The biggest fight

That turnaround started in 2009. Jose found out he was a father, but the mother, who lived in El Paso, didn’t want the child. Jose’s daughter, Adriana, was less than a year old when he began to fight for her. He did everything asked of him by Texas child protective services.

“They wanted me to go to parenting class, I went to parenting class. They wanted me to go to counseling, I went to counseling,” Jose said. “Anything they wanted me to do, I did.”

He got Adriana, but there was an issue. Adriana had a younger half-sister, Raelena.

“So I went to court to fight for Adriana and the judge asked what about Raelena, and I told him she wasn’t mine legally,” Jose said. “He said in Texas, when you acknowledge paternity and you take responsibility, you put your name on that birth certificate, you are her father. I said, well I’ll take her too then. Their mother didn’t want them, she gave up. I grew up without a dad and I didn’t want that to happen to the girls.”

The only way he knew he could make this family work was with support. Jose had been in a previous relationship with Annette Camacho. Even though they weren’t together at that time, Jose knew Annette was the only person he could trust to care for his daughters. He helped raise her kids when they were together. They reconciled, became the family they wanted and together they are raising their children.

“We have 24 years,” Jose said of his and Annette’s relationship. “Our family is together and strong.”

Finding the dream

Jose got to Lea County through the oil and gas industry. He was working for Neighbors Drilling in San Bernardino, moved to Lea County and began working for Patterson UTI.

“I love the oilfield,” he said. “I still do to this day. You get me to climb a derrick and I’ll like it.”

When he wasn’t working with oil, he also worked with graphics. Jose was living in Lovington and doing some small graphic design projects like T-shirts and hats.

In 2012, Jose was picking up a shirt in a Lovington graphic and design shop when a man entered the store asking about getting a huge Dallas Cowboys sticker in his office.

“The owner told him he could do it for $120,” Jose said. “I bought my shirt and waited outside. When the guy came out I told him, ‘I can do that job for $70.’ He asked how long it would take and I said 20 minutes. So he let me do it.”

That man was Lovington Police Detective David Rodriguez. Today Rodriguez is the Lovington Chief of Police. He was so impressed with Jose’s work that Jose was called to do other jobs, like making shirts. Then came one of Jose’s most recognizable projects.

“I did the Wildcat claw scratch on the Lovington Police cars,” Jose said of the popular vehicle wraps seen.

Jose used the money to buy more graphic design equipment. His family moved to a small house in Hobbs and Jose set up his shop in their garage. When the oil industry went through its recent downturn, Jose lost his job, but stuck to doing more graphics work for friends and family.

It wasn’t enough though. The bills were piling up.

Two steps back

Out of desperation Jose committed another crime.

“We were about to lose our house and car and I wrote a check from my old account to my new account, cashed it and paid what I had to do to save our house and car,” Jose said. “It kind of hurts. What I did was to save my family. I knew I was going to get in trouble and I took the blame. You have to take responsibility for your actions.”

He turned himself in to Lovington PD. His sentence was no jail time, only probation and to pay restitution. Jose has been on probation ever since. He’s scheduled to get off in February.

He paid back the restitution through some help. Mexican Norteño musician Adolfo Urías hired him to be his band’s driver to weekend concerts and events.

“They helped me out a great deal,” Jose said. “They paid my tickets, probation and restitution by deducting it out of my check.”

Capturing the dream

Jose got back into graphic design work. The oilfield industry picked back up and he got a job there as well. When he wasn’t working in the oilfield, he was creating graphic and design projects for Adolfo and his band and some oilfield friends.

“It started getting busy. I just wish it had come sooner,” Jose said. “Things happen for a reason and it was a learning experience.”

On a visit to SPC Media and Design, a Hobbs graphic and design shop on East Bender, Jose struck up a conversation with the shop owner.

“He told me they were leaving and closing the business,” Jose said. “I saw it as an opportunity. So I worked out the details and moved my stuff from my garage to the shop. Any stuff I didn’t have

I bought it from him. I left (the shop) in the same set-up as he had. Annette was worried about getting clients, but everyone knows this place used to be a graphic shop. So maybe this is a sign from God that everyone knows it’s a graphic shop. So I think this is our golden opportunity to try.”

L.A. Graphics and Design has been open for about six weeks. It handles everything from shirts and hats to vehicle wraps and window tinting.

“I am very, extremely happy the way things are going,” said Jose, on the day of their official grand opening and ribbon cutting. “I just picked up my travel permit at the probation office and was showing my probation officer my key to the city and other things I got with the grand opening.”

Everyone struggles in life. Jose realized the only way to cease the constant struggles is to break the pattern.

“The object is to stay out and do positive things with your life,” he said. “It took me 50 years to realize it.”

Jose wants to be a better person, help the community any way he can, and keep the business thriving.

“What I am really interested in is passing the store down to my kids,” Jose said. “Teaching them, the main goal is for them to stay out of trouble and do something positive with their lives.”

Jose learned the importance of family. Even though his mother passed away in 2000, Jose reconciled with his siblings. Frank now lives in Las Vegas, Nev., and whenever Aldofo’s band is in town, Jose pops by for a visit. The same is true for his oldest brother, Ruben, who lives in Tulsa, Okla. With his family intact and stronger than ever, Jose believes he has figured out how to live life right.

“It makes me feel good to be on (the right) side of the law and I would like to give back,” Jose said. “I have my dream in place. I have always wanted to do this. Now it’s all about giving back to the community that has given me so much.”

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