The Renaissance of Mario Benitez
Nearly a decade after enduring the prison and immigration system, Mario Benitez has rebuilt his life in Mexico.
Over the last decade, Mario Benitez has seen a lot.
He was inside the Florida prison system for a year-and-a-half, and spent about that long inside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility, also in Florida, before being deported to Mexico, a country he hadn’t lived in since he was very young.
Today, he teaches English to executives in Mexico, a niche that has helped him find a door toward many successes.
“I have a bank account and a credit card,” Benitez said, noting measuring the accomplishment depends entirely on perspective.
Considering where he came from, Benitez life could—and statistically likely should—have gone a much darker way.
By April 2007, Benitez’s life was unraveling. Within the span of months, not only had he ended his relationship with his fiancée, but his mortgage business had tanked, after the subprime—loans to borrowers with marginal credit ratings—market tanked.
Benitez developed a drinking problem and spent much of his time in bars.
One day in April, in a drunken stupor, Benitez decided that because his neighbor was late in paying a debt, he would collect that moment.
He went to his neighbor’s home, broke in, found a big change jar, and took that change jar to his bank.
A receipt would show he deposited just over $100.
He was arrested days later, but released.
All of this happened in Jupiter, Florida, noteworthy because the area is tough on crime.
Prosecutors refused to deal; Benitez refused to accept jail time, which they insisted on.
On January 31, 2009, Benitez’s fate was left to a judge.
The judge said his neighbors would never feel safe in their home; he did not believe that Benitez showed any remorse; and he was sentenced to 22 months in jail.
Benitez was expecting probation and had not even shared anything with his employer.
Benitez had moved to Chicago in the interim and was specializing in reverse mortgages for a mortgage company there.
Benitez was a prisoner in the Brevard County Jail System in Florida for approximately the next year-and-a-half.
Benitez said he met gang members, rapists, and murderers in his travels through the prison system.
He also taught other prisoners English.
Beyond that, he organized impromptu classes on mysticism and philosophy.
He also spent time in the hole and nearly got killed by an MS-13 gang member, but in May 2010, he was expecting to be released.
Benitez was in for a big surprise because he was immediately taken into ICE custody.
Benitez came to the U.S. with his family when he was three years old, settling in Chicago.
While the rest of his family got their citizenship, Benitez always remained a permanent resident alien.
This presented an immigration problem, especially under then President Barack Obama.
A non-citizen who commits an offense with more than a year in jail is eligible for deportation.
The Obama administration was setting records for deportations, targeting specifically non-citizens who committed serious crimes.
Indeed, then Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez issued this statement on October 18, 2011. He titled the statement, “Record-Setting ICE Deportation Numbers Are Nothing To Be Proud Of”.
“Nobody can say with a straight face that President Obama is not enforcing our immigration laws vigorously, but that is still the main talking point of the right wing every day of the week and twice on Sunday’s talk shows.
“The fact that we are deporting so many people, even when illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle, is a symptom of our decades-long neglect in fixing the immigration system and the chaos that has resulted from this neglect.”
Benitez had not only pleaded guilty to theft, but also to breaking in. On paper, this looked like a dangerous and serious crime.
He was not given bail, and he was relocated to an ICE facility, called KROME, in Miami.
Unlike his criminal offense, Benitez would remain at KROME until his immigration case was fully adjudicated.
Because a conviction of a felony with a sentence of more than a year is enough to warrant deportation, he needed a complicated legal maneuver to keep himself in the country.
He needed post-conviction relief which would reduce his sentence to below a year; Benitez remained in jail while an attempt was made.
By 2011, he accepted his fate and was deported to Mexico.
Benitez was helped in his resurgence by the fact that he has a well-off uncle who could help him land on his feet.
He said shortly after arriving in Mexico, he and his uncle began working with several political campaigns in and near Mexico City.
“I just learned more and more about Mexico; I learned more and more about the people in power in Mexico,” Benitez said of the early experience. “In many cases, there was an abuse of power and you weren’t really sure what their motives.”
Soon after, he met two Americans who ran a casino.
Shortly after befriending them, he began offering both English and Spanish classes to staff and ownership at the casino.
Remarkably, he would go to the casino, not necessarily to gamble, but to teach English and Spanish.
Benitez speaks perfectly in both English and Spanish.
What started as a cushy job in prison—teaching English—was now percolating into a career.
About three years ago, a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a payroll company, asked him for English lessons.
So satisfied, Benitez was soon also teaching the company’s vice-president and one of the directors.
From there, Benitez said he started developing a niche, teaching English to executives.
Benitez said he has been successful because he tries to teach in a unique style.
His students have different levels of English fluency coming in, but he has a hard and fast rule.
“Even if they speak little English, they can’t speak Spanish.” he said.
Also, he always starts classes in the same way by asking, “what’s new?”
From there, he hopes to create a conversation from which he can extract a topic which is interesting to the people in his class.
Then, using the computer, internet, and other resources, Benitez researches those topics and has his students read something which relates to whatever they were interested in.
For example, someone talking about sports, would read a sports article; same with movies, fashion, etc.
One thing that makes Benitez unique is his passion for the field of philosophy; specifically, he is quite passionate about one called “integral theory.”
Referring to integral theory, Benitez said, “it’s just a map of everything.”
Integral theory was formed by Ken Wilber, a transpersonal psychologist, who wrote numerous books, videos, articles and other media on integral theory, his attempt to put the diversity of theories and thinkers into one single framework.
Benitez said that a seven-minute Skype session a few years ago was the thrill of a lifetime, akin to meeting their favorite athlete or actor.
His study of integral theory led him to also discover another philosophy, spiral dynamics.
“Spiral Dynamics describes awareness development both at a personal and a collective level, such as organisations. It is based on the works of American Professor Emeritus of Psychology Clare W. Graves. Spiral Dynamics describes eight levels, expressed in value systems each with their own colours. These levels climb from simple structure to increasing complexity. Spiral Dynamics is a registered trademark and is mainly used in change management. It is used by advisory agencies for personal development and organisational development.” said Patty Mulder, a corporate organization consultant.
“Spiral dynamics, shows us where we’ve been as individuals, as organizations, and also shows us where we’re going,” Benitez said.
He said his grasp of the philosophy helped him deal with the turbulence in his life.
“In spiral dynamics, it shows you that we go through a very egoic time; what that means—a very selfish time.
“If you’re lucky, you get to something called ethnocentric.”
By this observation, this would mean when he was committing his crimes, this was a selfish period.
“No doubt about it, winding up in jail, committing crimes was a selfish state,” Benitez said.
Benitez won’t say that he has moved into an ethnocentric state, but he has definitely moved on from that egoic time, he said.
He said he listens more to the people around him; it has helped curb the selfishness.
He said with one company that he works with, he not only teaches English, but has also provided consulting services applying integral theory and spiral dynamics into an organizational consulting business.
“I guess you would call it consulting on integral theory and spiral dynamics,” Benitez said.
He also noted that he refers to himself as an English/Spanish coach rather than a teacher.
“I didn’t dig getting deported, if it wasn’t for missing my family, it would be perfectly ok,” Benitez said.