Our organization puts on an event called the Blessing Breakfast, an opportunity for us to get first responders from all our city, our county, surrounding cities and elected officials so we could pray all over all of them.
There was a gentleman in the room who happens to be the chief of police of one of the surrounding counties – Pima County.
I went up to him and I said, ‘Sir, I don’t know if you remember me, but 40 years ago you and I were in a gunfight and you saved my life.’
I went to Pima College on a wrestling scholarship, and in the first match of my freshman year I blew out my knee.
I started wrestling at five years old, but at 21, I was told that I would never wrestle again. That’s like saying you are not who you are. You’re not a person anymore.
So how does it go from there? Addiction and never dealing with trauma, what was happening to me. And there was a lot that was suppressed because I was molested as a kid.
I had gotten to 120 pounds. I was bleeding through every hole in my body. I would only eat maybe once or twice a month. I was using cocaine and alcohol on a daily basis. And I had this gun battle with the Tucson police department. Suicide by cop.
I didn’t want to live anymore because I couldn’t be recognized for what I wanted to be recognized for.
I ended up serving a little over 28 years in prison.
Now, I am the social service domain director at 4Tucson, which is a biblical organization which endeavors to change the city by using biblical principles to address the city’s most systemic problems.
As part of this position, I was assigned to Fresh Start International, which is an organization that is completely dedicated to transformative and restorative justice.
What we’re able to do is get judges from every courtroom – the Supreme Court, county court, juvenile court, city court, municipal court – to come to the community center every year. And then we bring people back with a history.
I’ve been given a voice on the Fresh Start radio show every week on Saturday mornings and we talk about things like restorative justice.
I’ve lived restorative justice. It’s going from June 9, 1984, being in a gunfight with the Tucson police department to January of 2023, being in the middle of a room, surrounded by other first responders, embracing and praying with the man who shot me.
And that gentleman in that big banquet room? That gentleman had tears in his eyes because he carried this with him for all of those years and because he heard these words, it gave him something. And they weren’t just empty words because everything that I’ve received I have to see as a gift.”
Tom Cortese serves the greater Tucson area through various organizations working toward restorative justice to dignify returning citizens, their families and the community at large. He is also a member of Our America’s Hometown Heroes Activist Network.