For eight years and 266 days Mr. Rocha resided in state prisons stemming from the cumulative effects of a severely flawed investigation, ineffective defense counsel, and systemic apathy to people rightly or wrongly pinned to cases labeled “gang related.”
Despite spending much of his time behind bars fighting for his freedom and actively pursuing the path of education and peace, he could do very little to escape the horrors of race-based segregation and prison violence. During his time in prison, in addition to enduring the mental anguish and hardships associated with serving time for another person’s crime, Mr. Rocha was also the victim of violent physical attacks by other inmates. One year before the California Court of Appeals reversed Mr. Rocha’s wrongful conviction, on two separate occasions he was stabbed numerous times by multiple inmates. Both times he was rushed to the hospital, and both times he nearly died.
But somehow Mario persevered and survived.
Today, even after spending ten and half years as an innocent imprisoned young man, he continues to dedicate himself to causes that benefit others. Mr. Rocha has successfully re-entered society as a meaningful and constructive contributor. He continues to support the work of Inside OUT Writers – a nonprofit organization that provides weekly writing classes within the Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall system – of which he is an alumnus having spent 24 months there before being transferred to state prison in April 1998.
Mr. Rocha regularly gives talks on youth justice at universities, law schools, and symposiums for a variety of audiences. After one recent visit to Swarthmore College, an undergraduate student wrote:
"When the conversation touched on Rocha’s interpretation of the word ‘freedom’, his voice shook. He said freedom is not determined by being in prison but by having a mind of one’s own. ‘When you stand on the righteousness of your principles there is a certain power that the system of authority fears and understands,’ said Rocha."
Though some might claim that as a free man he is now given a great opportunity to simply turn his life around and therefore be able to put his past and this case behind him, having been released on a $1 million bail and never been monetarily compensated for more than a decade of false imprisonment, it is important to keep in mind that if he cannot receive the justice that he truly deserves, then it is highly unlikely that other innocent prisoners will also receive justice via compensation.