Graduating college with top honors is something that Angel Sanchez never imagined as he sat in his jail cell years ago.

  • Angel Sanchez will graduate from University of Central Florida
  • He studied legal studies and political studies
  • Sanchez was arrested at 17 and charged with attempted murder

“In the 'hood, you don’t get a high GPA and you don’t graduate from a university," Sanchez said. "You graduate from the juvenile detention center and go to adult jails."

Sanchez grew up in inner-city Miami. By middle school, he joined a gang and got arrested for the first time.

“One of them hits me, and they start jumping me and my friend. Immediately, the first thing I think of is the gun I have," he explained. "I start shooting at them, and it happens right in front of a police officer.”

Police charged Sanchez with attempted murder and at the age of 17, he was sentenced to prison for 30 years.

Angel Sanchez's father, Enrique, raised him as a single parent. (Courtesy of Angel Sanchez)

“I had a dad who raised me by himself. All he wanted was for me to get good grades and go to school. And I had let him down. All I had to show for it was a 30-year sentence," he said.

Before he died, his elderly father, Enrique, would visit him in jail. Crippled with guilt, Sanchez began immersing himself in books.

“Once I’m in the law library, I start saying, 'Wow, I actually understand law, I have a passion for this,'" he said. "I wish I would’ve known about this when I was young. I would’ve pursued this. If I ever get out, I’m going to college.”

Sanchez fought his case, got resentenced, released on probation — then, living in an Orlando homeless shelter, applied for school at Valencia College. Three years and a 4.0 GPA later, Sanchez earned a scholarship to attend the University of Central Florida.

“I give credit to my faith. I give credit to my Dad. But, all of it found its cross in education," he said.

Although he thinks he has overcompensated to make up for his troubled past, the diligence and hours of studying paid off: Sanchez is graduating from UCF with a 4.0 GPA in legal studies and political science. He's also earned highest student honor at UCF, Order of Pegasus.

“I want to work on criminal justice reform. I want to reduce mass incarceration. I want to inspire other at-risk individuals, those who have already been convicted to know that they can follow their dream," he said.

Sanchez graduates Saturday and plans to study law at the University of Miami — unless he is removed from the waiting list at Yale.

Angel Sanchez is graduating with honors from the University of Central Florida and is going to study law at the University of Miami, unless he's accepted into Yale. (News 13)