Convicted to love

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Lou Sanchez moves to Carmel, starts business to be near imprisoned son

By Mark Ambrogi

Lou Sanchez was devoting his life to helping others.

So how could he not be there for his own imprisoned son, Jonathan?

“I felt I had to be here next to my son,” said Sanchez of his first prison visit in April 2014. “I couldn’t continue just visiting him once a year or something like that. That wasn’t going to be acceptable. I looked at my wife (Jonathan’s stepmother) on the prison grounds on the second day of our visit and said ‘We have to move to Carmel.’ She looked at me and said, ‘You’re right’ instead of ‘You’re crazy.’”

They moved to Carmel from Orlando, Fla., so they can visit Jonathan twice a month.

“I don’t understand how you can be in ministry and having your son in prison and not going to see him as often as you can,” said Sanchez, who was a conference director for Campus Crusade for Christ from 2007 until March.

Jonathan, who was living in LaPorte, Ind., was driving while under the influence and reaching for his phone when he slammed into the back of minivan, causing the death of a Michigan woman in the third-row seat on Oct. 8, 2011 near Michigan City, Ind. Jonathan, now 25, was convicted of driving under the influence of heroin and causing death and sentenced to 15 years. He also must pay $11,000 in restitution to the victim’s family. He is in Miami Correctional Facility in Bunker Hill, Ind.

Sanchez said his son, who was suicidal for the first year after the accident, will likely be incarcerated for three to five more years.

“What’s sad is I’ve learned 45 people lose their lives every day to drunken drivers,” Sanchez said. “Moving here has been better for me than him because I feel connected to the whole thing now. I feel like we’re on the same team. I think it’s the best move we ever made.”

The three-hour visits have made Sanchez and his son closer.

“We’ve never had the type of relationship we have now,” Sanchez said. “I see growth that is incredible and I see sadness, too.”

Wendy said when Jonathan was in county jail, he could only have two visitors so they wanted Jonathan’s mother and his girlfriend who was bringing his four-year-old daughter Sofie to have those visits. Sanchez and his first wife divorced when Jonathan was three years old.

Wendy, 53, is a communications director for Campus Crusade for Christ, specializing working with Latino students. The couple met in 2003 and have been married 10 years.

“When we told our boss we need to be here, he said he had goosebumps,” Wendy said. “The ministry is very family-oriented. We both had national jobs so my boss said we could do our jobs anywhere.”

Looking to future

Sanchez left his Cru position in March, to start Carmel Auto Cleaning, operating under Electronica Warehouse LCC.

Sanchez, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 12 years, said he is looking at it as a business his son or perhaps other convicted felons can be employed at.

“Part of his condition to even be freed is to have a job and be paying money back,” Sanchez said. “I hope to employ that type of person when we get busy enough. It will be an option for him, I’m not going to twist his arm.”

Jonathan will likely want to be near his daughter, who lives with her mother in LaPorte.

“When he gets out, his journey is really just beginning,” Sanchez said. “With drug testing, like any prisoner when they get out on parole, if he doesn’t live the right way he’s going back for 13 years, which would be double what he did. His only choice is to be a boon to society, not a burden.”

Without absolving his son of any guilt, Sanchez is on a campaign to let others know how dangerous it is to sit in the third row seat of a minivan.

Sanchez’s parents were both natives of Cuba. Sanchez was born in Brooklyn, moved to Atlanta and then eventually moved to Chicago, where his father owned car washes. So getting into car detailing seemed a natural fit.

“We’re in the Midwest, this is a service that everyone needs,” said Sanchez.

Did you know?

Americans take 233 billion trips in cars each year

Of those, about one out of every 2,000 trips are taken by those who are driving under the influence of alcohol

One out of every three traffic deaths involves drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs

45 people die every day from accidents involving drunk drivers

Source: Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Carmel Auto Cleaning

Address: 254 1st Ave. SW, Suite D

Phone: 969-5847

Website: carmelautocleaning.com

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6 Comments

  1. I think you are great for doing this Louis and Wendy!! After all, who else is going to do this for someone, other than your parents and everyone deserves a chance and love. God Bless all of you. xoxo

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