Juan’s path to employment and hope

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REDF has helped more than 1000 people get jobs in 2014 through our great portfolio of social enterprises.  To celebrate, we wanted to look at some of the stories behind the numbers.  Here’s Juan’s story.

Juan has his life on track. He has a good job where he works more than forty hours each week earning union wages. He has a wife, a baby—even a new car. He is saving money. He has plans: to go to school, eventually to buy a house. “This is just the beginning,” says Juan, who is 25. “I’m starting a whole new life.”

It wasn’t always that way.

Juan grew up in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California, the youngest of nine children. He was sent to juvenile hall in the ninth grade, and dropped out of high school his senior year. He was stabbed in the chest when he was 16, and has been shot three times. He was incarcerated when he was 19 and again when he was 21. His second sentence was for four years. In the year and a half since he was released from prison, Juan has planned every step to move his life forward. “After my street life, my incarceration, and my life almost being taken numerous times, I realize that path is not for me,” he says. “I really matured. I learned there’s much more to life than the streets. I can’t go back. I want something better.”

He credits his older brother with lending a guiding hand, with picking him up whenever he slipped, and with setting a good example. He is also grateful to the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), which has given him the tools to transition from incarceration to employment.

“This program’s real special to me,” he says. “Honestly, if I didn’t come here, I’d probably end up going back to prison. That, or I’d be dead.” He explains that, with jobs so difficult to find for those on parole, it was the small, practical things that CEO taught him that pointed him in the right direction. “Not only did they help me with the job search, they showed me how to ask for a job, how to fill out an application, how to find the right person to speak to.”

After completing CEO’s life skills training course where he learned skills such as resume writing techniques, personal presentation, basics of communication, and how to discuss conviction and criminal history on an interview, Juan joined one of CEO’s work crews, where he received a paycheck at the end of each workday. “The program was great,” he says. “Not only did it put money in my pocket, but the job kept me balanced and gave me something to look forward to.”

Juan is now employed fulltime as a metal worker. He works the graveyard shift, which allows him to care for his three-month-old son, duties he shares with his wife Leslie, who is a schoolteacher. He hopes to further his education by taking college courses later this year. His goal: to become a parole officer or counselor. “I want to talk to youth, share my experience, give them my knowledge,” he says. “There are a lot of kids who grow up thinking there’s no way out, that all they have is the streets. I want to tell them my life story. Let them know there’s another way.”

Juan explains that he’s already been to five funerals this year. “My wife and I talk about it, how crazy it is, how we don’t cry any more. We just accept it. It’s sad because where we live, you get used to it. That’s why I’m working so hard, so my son won’t see this. When the time is right, we’ll be out of here. Every day when I get home from work I tell him, ‘You better go to school!’ He can be whatever he wants to be, I’ll support him. But I hope to God he’ll be somebody special. I know he will.”

Juan says that he’s grateful to have a job to go to every day, that he has a reason to get up and move forward. Having survived three gunshots, he feels that he has learned the importance of overcoming obstacles, of not letting circumstances control his life. “I’m so much better now than where I started,” he says. “I’m working. I have a family. I’ll never look back. I’ve learned that you can’t wait for it. You have to go get it. And I’m going to go get it.”