Meet Michael Mendoza, #cut50 National Director

Michael Mendoza speaking at a past Day of Empathy event

At #cut50, we fight to ensure that people who are most affected by the justice system can leverage their voices and expertise to develop policy solutions that will impact their lives, families, and communities.

That’s why we are thrilled to welcome back a former team member who is now stepping into the role of National Director: Michael Mendoza!

Michael grew up in Southern California in an environment that exposed him to racism, peer pressure, drug abuse, gang violence, and poverty. At the age of 13, Michael joined a gang to seek safety and acceptance.

22 years ago, he made what he calls the worst decision of his life: agreeing to participate in a gang related murder.

Michael Mendoza at age 15

As a 15-year-old kid, Michael was prosecuted as an adult and sentenced to 15-to-life. At the time, the chances of Michael ever being released from incarceration were less than 5 percent. The message was pretty clear: He was irredeemable, not worth helping, and would spend the rest of his life in prison.

But while he was incarcerated, two important events changed the trajectory of Michael’s life.

Nearly ten years into his sentence, Michael met a courageous woman who came into prison to share her story. Through tears, she described how her son was murdered and died in her arms. This woman not only inspired Michael to embark on his own journey of accountability, but she also taught him empathy.

Then, a change in California law — Senate Bill 260 — gave Michael the opportunity and an incentive to continue his transformation and eventually earn his freedom.

Upon his return home, Michael was deeply moved to continue advocating for policies that would bring incarcerated people home and eventually freedom. He began working on criminal justice issues, testifying in the state capitol, and advocating for key changes to California law.

#cut50’s new National Director, Michael Mendoza

Michael has worked as a case manager at the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, obtained a B.A. in political science, and served as a Policy Associate with #cut50 before becoming Policy Director at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

Now, Michael returns to #cut50 to serve as our new National Director!

We are thrilled to have Michael lead our team and our Empathy Network to humanize individuals impacted by the justice system, use storytelling as a key launch pad for our advocacy work, and accelerate the national momentum for legislative change from the grassroots to the grasstops.

(Left to right): #cut50 co-founder Van Jones, Senator Hakeem Jeffries, #cut50 co-founder Jessica Jackson, new National Director Michael Mendoza, and #cut50 Deputy Director Alex Gudich

Michael is already receiving a warm welcome from leaders in the field.

“#cut50 is lucky to have Michael Mendoza as their new National Director,” said Frankie Guzman, Director of the California Youth Justice Initiative at the National Center for Youth Law.

“He has the credentials, lived experience, professional network, and community support to lead #cut50 in these politically dynamic times. I’ve worked with Michael on numerous youth justice campaigns and have seen his impact on lawmakers and advocates alike. On a human level, Michael is an example of the need #cut50 is addressing and of the success all youth can achieve when they are invested in. Professionally, Michael has the strategic vision, interpersonal skills, and community trust and connections to navigate the challenges between community health and public safety. He’s solid.”

“Michael Mendoza is a dear friend of mine and trusted ally in the movement,” says Amika Mota, Policy Director for the Young Women’s Freedom Center.

“As the National Director of #cut50, I know that Michael will guide the organization with integrity, lifting up the voices of those most impacted by mass incarceration in the US. Michael’s personal experience with the criminal justice system, and his commitment to build collaborative relationships with folks on the ground, position him to lead a National effort in reducing mass incarceration with heart and innovative strategy”.

As Michael Mendoza steps into his new role, co-founder Jessica Jackson will transition to the role of Senior Counsel and continue to advise the #cut50 team on policy and key partnerships.

#cut50 is a Dream Corps initiative committed to lifting up the voices of directly impacted populations and ensuring that those who know the criminal justice system best are at the forefront fighting for change. With Michael Mendoza as National Director, #cut50 aims to further inspire those wounded by incarceration to leverage their experiences in a way that is both empowering and impactful.

A national bipartisan initiative to smartly and safely reduce our incarcerated population. Co-Founded by @VanJones68, a program of the Dream Corps.