There is a saying, “into every life a little rain must fall.” Some of us know this all too well.
There was once a time I was climbing the ladder of photojournalism back in New York City. I was scoring one big assignment after another, and then that rain started to fall.
Next thing I know, my life is in total disarray. At the end of the day, you simply couldn’t recognize my life for what it once was.
Another individual – an El Paso boxer – knows about that rain as well. Four separate times he was arrested for DWI. The last time, the last arrest, sent him straight to prison. Not a place any of us want to be.
He’s out, and on that road to recovery, and the belt. I’m talking about Antonio Escalante.
It’s not an easy path, from a prison cell back to where you once were. It takes a lot of work, a lot of support.
“The real fight is outside the ring,” says Lincoln Juardo, Escalante’s friend, and rep. “All the training, all the hard work. Once you get inside, it’s just performance. The real fight is out here, and it’s not just running. If you’re struggling in your relationship if you’re
struggling over your rent. You have to be very headstrong.”
Lincoln’s right, the struggle, the fight is outside the ring.
Escalante does not offer excuses for the DWI’s. He’s not blaming the problems he had outside the ring – though there were many. He accepts responsibility for what he has done and he has grown. He realizes the toughest battles are ahead of him, beyond boxing.
But Escalante says he is ready for those fights, he’s had three years of hardcore training.
Three years Escalante sat in prison. He lost his family. Friends decided to walk away from him. The nights were lonely, cold and harsh. It’s those same nights, when you have only yourself to relate to – when your failures outweigh your successes – you have one of two avenues open to you: come out fighting and succeed or you come out and count the days until you find yourself back in prison.
Escalante has chosen the former. He has chosen to succeed.
“Incarceration,” says Escalante, “there really is nothing you can do in there.”
Escalante was going through the Drug Court program. There were violations of probation, the coming home fifteen-minutes late, maybe not following the exact letter of his terms and conditions. The judge had enough.
“That’s when the judge got tired of me and said go do your time,” recalls Escalante.
Since his release, he has been training and working; filling his days with positive actions that will lead him to success. He’s not sitting at home, crying over his past and what he’s done. Just as the judge became tired of what Escalante was doing, Escalante
himself became tired of it. He’s changed.
“Well, prison changes you. It changes the way you think, the way you live,” he says. “You get to appreciate things a little bit more.”
His freedom, his goals, his dreams, they mean more to him today than they did three years ago. He knows what he lost, what he gave up.
“I learned,” he says. “there’s nothing but good and positive things ahead of me now.”
Just taking the time to sit with Antonio Escalante, talk with him, spend some time with him, you can see that he is a changed man. It shows.
When Escalante was in the El Paso County Detention Facility- Annex I had the chance to speak with him. Then, he was simply counting days. He was in a fog. You could see that he realized that his life, his career could very well be over.
By the time I was able to speak with Escalante the second time, he was working in the inmate laundry. You could see the change coming. Other inmates would recognize him, tell him they were praying for him, and that was one of several sparks that would begin the change in him.
Another spark came when family began to distance themselves from him. The one thing we have, should always have, is family. But when even they become tired of your antics, it gives you pause.
I had to ask him if he sees himself going back to jail, picking up another DWI.
Escalante is not doing it alone. His friend and Lincoln Juardo is his friend first, and rep second is helping to keep Escalante focused.
“First of all,” says Lincoln, “from personal experience, I know that when you overcome a battle, when you overcome a major struggle, you’re at your best almost. I know what he went through. He’s seen the cold nights; he’s been in the dark, lonely cells. He’s at his best.”
Lincoln is keeping him on a schedule of boxing. He’s making sure everything Escalante does is detail oriented, focused. From what I know, from what I’ve seen, it’s working.
“I have to make sure his mind is stimulated,” says Lincoln, “to everything that is boxing.”
He then said that “without his discipline, he’s not even a professional boxer.” I think Lincoln is right. Escalante needs the discipline that was lacking in the past. After three years in prison, he has found it and embraced it.
He was seen on HBO, he was seen on pay-per- view. He was known, he was in the spotlight. He was going to take the world by storm but let it all come crashing down. He chose to drink; he chose to drive. Thankfully, in the end, no one was hurt by his actions. Well, not physically, anyway.
From the top of the world to the bottom of the heap. “It was a drastic change in my life,” says Escalante. “This is the lowest a human can get, in jail.”
The stress of jail, the dwelling on the past, he hit that point where he let it go. He began to train while incarcerated; he began to focus on what he was going to do when he walked out those doors.
“I still had myself,” Escalante says.
That realization, to understand that one still has their inner being, their inner self, no matter what is almost a Zen moment. That has given him the drive, the desire to achieve his dreams.
In the past I found myself rooting for Escalante. Whenever he fought, I was there. If I couldn’t make it in person, I was wherever a television was that fought it.
Larry Merchant may have said that Escalante would be nothing more than a county boxer, a county fighter. Yvonne Rosales may have used Escalante and his DWI as a political talking point during her run for District Attorney. You may have thought Escalante an idiot or fool for having tossed the world away.
A million things may have been said about Antonio Escalante, and I will add my two cents worth.
Regardless of what Escalante has done in the past, he’s paid for that. He’s faced his demons and defeated them. Today, Escalante is stronger, mentally, emotionally, and soon physically than he was back in 2014.
When he steps into that ring this April 7, in Laredo, Texas, you are going to see El Paso’s Boxing Champ, and the first steps on the
road to the belt. Mark my words!
Escalante has a message for everyone out there.
“I want to say thank you,” he says “to all of you who have believed in me. For those of you who feel upset for what I went through, I am so sorry. You will have your champion.”