SAN JOSE -- Two San Jose men who were destined to spend the rest of their lives in prison will be freed next week under a judge's order issued Friday -- the first such ruling in Santa Clara County since voters overwhelmingly approved easing the state's tough Three Strikes Law.

After closely reviewing the men's prison records and criminal histories, Superior Court Judge Linda Condron Clark found they do not pose a serious risk to public safety. Prosecutors concurred.

John Anthony Pedraza, 50, has been locked up for 17 years for possession of $50 worth of methamphetamine. His previous strikes were nonviolent residential burglary and robbery.

Martin Ambrose Stagi, also 50, has been behind bars for about 15 years for possession for sale of marijuana and meth. His previous strikes were assaults stemming from one incident that took place 15 years before the 1997 drug conviction.

In Stagi's case, a veteran prison official with 28 years experience highly recommended his release.

"I've never encountered an inmate that I feel deserves a second chance of freedom that Stagi deserves,'' Lt. K.J. McCoy wrote in a letter to the judge.

Only a handful of people have been released since the Nov. 6 election when 69.3 percent of California voters approved Proposition 36. In Santa Clara County, the measure garnered even more support -- 75.69 percent. District Attorney Jeff Rosen was one of only three top prosecutors in the state to support the reform measure.

The law had originally called for at least 25 years to life sentences for felons convicted of any third felony. The first two strikes had to be serious or violent crimes.

The new law prohibits judges from imposing a life sentence on most repeat offenders who commit minor crimes. But it also includes a provision that could result in an early release or shorter sentence for up to 3,000 inmates like Stagi and Pedraza who were sentenced to life in prison for nonviolent, relatively minor crimes.

Clark's ruling thrilled the men's families. Both will stay with relatives or friends when they get out, their lawyer Mark Arnold said.

Stagi's son, Matthew, is now a 26-year-old electrician. He's stayed in touch with his father through letters. But he hasn't seen him since he was 17 years old.

"Oh my God, I just can't believe it,'' he said. "I'm still in shock; everybody in the family is. He has eight grandchildren he's never even seen.''

Arnold said neither man gave up hope or succumbed to the prison culture. Instead, they took classes inside. Pedraza, for instance, has developed strong computer-related skills, he said.

State prison officials are expected to release them both next week when they receive the paperwork from the judge.

Ramon Garcia plans to pick up his friend and fellow Christian, Pedraza, from prison. They'll drive back to Fresno for a celebration and feast with others in their faith group before driving him to see his family in San Jose.

What do you serve a man who has been inside for 17 years?

Choosing what to serve isn't going to be easy, Garcia said, because Pedraza is "such a diet freak.''

"I want to serve something healthy,'' Garcia said. "All I know is, it won't be hamburgers or pizza.''

Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.