STOCKTON - Forty-two-year-old Michael Lopez is headed to prison for a third time after pleading guilty to driving a stolen truck last January. He said in a jail interview the system has let him down.
"We go to prison, we're released, given $200 and we're just told to make our way," Lopez said from San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp.
Lopez was the driver of a stolen big rig filled with scrap metal. He led police on a slow chase lasting a few hours before finally pulling over and running off. He was quickly arrested. Lopez said he was high on methamphetamine that day and too scared of police to pull over sooner.
He said there are too few opportunities for people like him to stay clean and crime-free when they're released from prison, and in his case, that meant a return to drug use.
"I know it sounds like a cop-out, but a 20-dollar bag of meth can keep you going for a couple of days. When you have no place to go, and nothing to eat, it's a cheap way to survive," he said.
Lopez said metal theft is how he paid for his drugs, and said recycle businesses ask few questions when they're brought metal.
"Metal is an easy way to make money when you're desperate. You don't need any ID. You turn it [metal] in and get cash on the spot," he said.
County probation officials strongly disagreed they dropped the ball when dealing with Lopez. They said Lopez was in drug treatment classes but had stopped attending. A few weeks later, he was arrested for the stolen truck incident. They said people like Lopez have to follow through on the programs and opportunities offered to them.
Lopez heads to prison for a third time in the next week or so. He has a nine-year sentence but expects to serve half that time, if he's on good behavior.