What was supposed to be a festive day turned out to be a nightmare for Crystal Espinoza and her 9-year-old son.
It was six years ago, on Easter, and Espinoza was lying on the floor of her apartment living room beaten, kicked and humiliated, while her frightened son Gabriel – instructed to call the police once he heard yelling and screaming – waited in the next room.
“I’m scared mommy,” said Gabriel, familiar with the situation.
The frightened words from her son ultimately shaped Espinoza’s breakthrough.
“She stands tall,” said Crystal Rodriguez, an academic counselor at Clovis Adult Education. “When she is motivated, and has the drive to do something, she’s going to get it done.”
But, for Espinoza, the road hasn’t been easy.
She was once a 16-year-old teenage mother caught in the midst of sustaining her family and going to school for her diploma.
Although her child’s father was not ready for the responsibilities that came with parenthood, Espinoza was obligated to quickly mature.
While her classmates were preoccupied with popularity and the latest trends, Espinoza attended Gateway High School during the morning, and in the evenings worked as a hostess at Javier’s Restaurant in southeast Fresno.
Meanwhile, her partner was caught in a web of infidelity, bad friends, and drugs.
“I didn’t want to give up too easy, I wanted my family,” recalled Espinoza.
At that point, she made the decision to move her family to Barstow, a small town in San Bernardino County just before arriving to Las Vegas, with her then mother-in-law. Espinoza believed that removing her partner from the influence would save their marriage.
Her hope was cut short. The spousal abuse worsened, and she was forced to set her educational goals on hold. Espinoza’s husband was incarcerated for the domestic violence. She and her son moved back to Fresno in 2003. With the help from her parents, she was ready for a fresh start.
However, shortly after moving back home, her husband was released from jail. He came to Fresno, and soon meddled his way back into her life.
Unhappy with her decision, Espinoza’s parents refused to help their daughter, if she was not able to first help herself.
They moved into their own apartment, again, with Espinoza determined to save her family.
However, her husband relapsed and the spousal abuse begun once again.
Working at Me-N-Ed’s at the time, Espinoza knew she had do more than work minimum-wage jobs to give her family a decent living.
Tired of customer service jobs, she knew that it wouldn’t be enough to support her family. At age 20, she became a licensed cosmetologist and for the next five years she balanced a part-time jobs at beauty and hair salons.
Not only did the two jobs take a toll on Espinoza, so did the verbal, physical and mental abuse she endured for years.
“I was done,” said Espinoza. “I would always cry and give in, this time I had no tears left.” It wasn’t her son who had called police, but a concerned samaritan, who remains unknown.
Her divorce was final in October 2012.
She enrolled at Clovis Adult Education with only 26 pending credits to receive her diploma. She graduated in May of 2018.
“There’s a lot of people who, having gone through what she has gone through, would just give up,” said Rodriguez.
Espinoza remained unbroken, and determined to accomplish her goal: Get her diploma, pass the paraprofessional exam, and work as a special needs aide.
She accomplished her goal, and currently serves as a special education instructional aide at Copper Hills Elementary School.
But it was her English teacher, Kerri Nevills, that encouraged her to go all the way.
As a full-time student and aide, Espinoza goes to work in the morning and attends classes at Fresno City College almost every day of the week.
After finishing her coursework at Fresno City, Espinoza will be moving on to Fresno State for her teaching credential.
“Crystal has always been a motivated person,” said Rodriguez. “… and she has remained positive despite the countless obstacles in her life.”