Perez, who struggled to find his way as he moved in and out of foster care, described his childhood as "a pretty violent time." He said he turned to the streets for a sense of family.
"I was by myself so I found my companionship with guys on the street," he said. "We living, we were surviving. We were hustling. I think that's the best word I could describe it as."
In and out of jail, Perez knew there had to be more.
"Is this it what's next? What was to happen after I am incarcerated?" he said. "Ever since I was a child, and even in the violence of my own home, I was always trying to find my escape, and my escape was in reading and writing."
Perez credits teachers, staff and counselors with helping him get where he is today.
"I feel very fortunate to the people that came into my life that made me consider that path that I had never considered before," he said.
Now with a PhD in criminology, Perez finds himself back behind bars but for a different reason: as a Professor for DePaul University, teaching what he's learned in school and in life.
"I think the Inside-Out Program is an excellent opportunity for us to work with individuals on the inside," he said. "We bring students there. It's an excellent opportunity for us to humanize the process."
Perez hopes to continue to pay it forward help others find their path in life.
"So I will say well into my twilight years I would love to remain in this position and be able to have influence on people's lives in a very positive way," he said.
Watch the video below to see how Perez is Building a Better Chicago through the Inside-Out Program at Cook County Jail and Stateville Correctional Center.
Building a Better Chicago is an ongoing series of ABC7 Eyewitness News reports spotlighting the people and groups working toward solutions and improvements across our area. If you know of someone who is Building A Better Chicago, contact ABC7.
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