Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition often associated with military veterans, but it can also affect people who have never seen a war zone.
"Other people can get PTSD as well, it doesn't just have to be someone in military or someone in law enforcement," said Dr. Corey S. Gonzales, a licensed clinical psychologist who operates just off California Avenue.
People who see violence are at-risk of suffering trauma and potentially developing PTSD, according to Gonzales. The south and east sides of Bakersfield are riddled with gang activity and violence, and people exposed to that violence are susceptible to.
"When you go through trauma, a lot of times the fight-or-flight part of the brain gets damaged, and what happens is the fight-or-flight won't shut off," Gonzales says.
"I would have nightmares, you know, flashbacks, so I was diagnosed with PTSD," said Angelina Ibarra, who grew up on the east side of Bakersfield. She says the diagnosis was traced to the death of her friend in 2012, when he was shot in a car while Ibarra was in the passenger seat.
However, Ibarra said there have been numerous instances throughout her life that traumatized her: people killed outside her apartment, finding a man who had hung himself on her swing set when she was just a child. "I've been through some stuff," she said.
Odis Wiley and Chany Herron both grew up on the east side as well.
"It's... something I wouldn't want to experience all over again," said Wiley, who grew up on Virginia Avenue. Meanwhile, Herron lost her son Brandon to a drive-by shooting in 2012.
"Some people can't come back," Herron said. "Some people just can't deal with it and don't have the foundation that I have."
Victor Garcia and Manuel Carrizalez also grew up surrounded by gang activity.
"I'm going to say 75% of the people I grew up with are dead," said Garcia. He moved around a lot as a child, but spent a lot of time in the neighborhoods near Cottonwood Road. He says he was wrapped up in gang activity as a child, and was forced to fight others by his father.
"What we didn't realize was that a lot of different things were happening inside of us. We were becoming little monsters," Garcia said of he and his friends growing up in gang life.
Carrizalez was one of those friends. He grew up on the east side too, and was also involved in gang life early and found himself hooked on heroin by the time he was in junior high.
"Everything starts fresh and fun, but everything has a dead end," Carrizalez said.
Getting Help and Getting Involved
After they all experienced or had a glimpse of trauma on Bakersfield's streets, all of them are moving past it. Wiley and Herron both work with the Wendale Davis Foundation, who seek to help at-risk youth in Bakersfield.
Carrizalez started Stay Focused Ministries in 1991 after he was released from prison in 1990. The organization works to reach inner-city communities and pry kids from gang life by offering mentoring programs and sharing their faith.
Garcia raised a family and works with Carrizalez, often attending schools and outreaches. Ibarra also works at Stay Focused after she says her faith helped her to conquer her PTSD.
If you think you may be suffering from trauma or PTSD, Dr. Gonzales recommends seeking professional medical help. When it comes to PTSD, he looks for the following symptoms: hyper-arousal, avoidance, impairment in functioning and cognitive distortion. If he sees those symptoms for a month, he can diagnose and prescribe treatment, including medication and psychotherapy. He can be reached at 661-323-2108.
Stay Focused Ministries and the Wendale Davis Foundation continue to work towards saving Bakersfield youth from gang violence. For more information and to get involved with outreach at Stay Focused, click here. For more on the Wendale Davis Foundation and what they are doing, click here.