Last week REDF released the findings of a jobs report that shows social enterprise can improve the lives of people facing barriers to work. Below is a moving story from Kevin, an employee of the REDF-supported social enterprise Hope Builders, in which he shares with us his journey to a job and what it means for his future.
It was approximately six in a half years ago during the summer of 2008, when I was arrested for 6 counts of armed robbery and attempted carjacking. Even though I was a teen, I was tried as an adult and sentenced to 3 years in prison with two adult strikes on my record. The exact date was August 31’st. During that time, I was lost in my own little world, hanging around the wrong people and thinking only about myself, and not my family or loved ones.
I was hardly going to school, and when I did, I would always end up ditching class and going back to my neighborhood trying to look for trouble. During that time I was using drugs on a daily basis. I started smoking weed at 12 years old and it just stuck with me up until I got arrested. Cocaine was also a drug of choice during those times, but I would only do it once in a while. I guess you can say I was always high. Now that I look back at it, I know that had a lot to do with the poor decisions I made. I always had a good support system at home, well at least my mom was always there for me. My dad and I never got along too well so I started looking for something to fill that gap. Eventually, it was the streets. I dug a hole so deep for myself that I couldn’t find a way out. I was deeply involved in gangs and, at the time, I was in it for the long run. I didn’t care if I got arrested or not, it didn’t matter to me, or so I thought. It was only a matter of time until I got arrested and was sent to juvenile hall where I was fighting my case. I ended up falling into the adult category due to the severity of my crimes, so I was sent to a high risk unit with other juveniles who were being tried as adults. During those times, I suffered a lot. Your so called friends seem to disappear when you’re at your worst and the only people there for you are the people you neglected and cared for you the most, your family.
Around that time, I thought I was never going to make it out. I was looking at a life sentence and had no hope in coming home before the age of 25, according to my lawyer. My case started picking up and I was going to court for a whole year jumping from courthouse to courthouse. Let me tell you, being shackled in chains for a year straight is no fun at all. During that time, I had a lot of time to think and reflect on my life. I started realizing that this is not the life I want live. Being incarcerated was hard; the food was disgusting and you only came out of your cell for an hour of recreation every day. The rest of the time you spent in your cell.
Fast forwarding to my final court date, I ended up taking a deal for 3 years and two strikes. I pled no contest to two second degree armed robberies. My original sentence was supposed to be 7 years and two strikes but I guess my DA had a change of heart during the last minute. I was so young that they deducted4 years from my sentence. I would be released by the time I was 18. At that point, I knew someone was watching over me and I was given a second chance at life. I was released in the summer of 2011.
My first week out I enrolled into college because I had a plan. I finished a few semesters in college and was doing good. My relationship with my family was stronger than ever and I was on my way to getting my associates degree. The following year I had my first and only daughter.
Things started getting hard at that point because I didn’t have an income. School was easy to get in to because obviously they didn’t do background checks but finding work with two armed robberies on your record wasn’t so easy. I ended up being referred to a program in Orange County. I was desperate to get a job. The program was called Taller San Jose. I registered for the construction program. One of my close friends that I was incarcerated with, went to the program as well. He was working as a cement mason making $18 an hour. That caught my attention. His case was very similar to mine and if he could do it so could I. To make a long story short I passed the 3 month program with ease, picked up some good certificates and also built a good work ethic.
After I completed the program, I applied at a company called Hope Builders, a general contractor for Taller San Jose. I’ve been working with them ever since. During this time, I’ve learned a lot and I’m ready to go back to college again to pursue a career in wild land firefighting. Well that’s my life in a nutshell. I’m doing good for myself now and there is no going back. This is only the beginning for me. I’m only moving up and forward from this point on!
– Kevin Rubio