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Pablo Gaxiola on Using Your Past As an Asset

There’s been no stopping Pablo since we first shared his story two years ago, which powerfully demonstrates the “ripple effect” that happens when people whose lives are transformed as a result of social enterprise dedicate themselves to helping others. Pablo continues to be an inspiring example to his family, a respected leader in his community, and a valuable voice of experience for those returning home from incarceration. We recently caught up with Pablo to learn how he’s continuing to grow in his role and use his experience to not only help and encourage others, but also create positive change in the judicial system.


Using Your Past as an Asset
“I’m not afraid to sit in a meeting with our senior leadership team and say, ‘Oh. I remember when I was in prison’.”

Over the past six years, Pablo has moved from being hesitant about mentioning his past to using it as an asset to serve his community and the striving individuals he works with at Goodwill Silicon Valley, where he serves as Director of Re-Entry Services and manages five programs and 15 staff.

“Being in the director role, I think I’ve proven that someone with a justice-involved background and other employment barriers can turn them into strengths, and be respected in that role. My point of view is an asset.”

Pablo’s optimism and belief in each person’s potential is a welcome respite for returning citizens who face the dual challenge of exiting prison during the COVID-19 pandemic. From getting employees comfortable with virtual mock interviews to building on their digital literacy, Pablo and his team have been able to creatively adapt and adjust the reentry services Goodwill of Silicon Valley provides to address the additional needs brought on by COVID-19.

“I feel like I’m in my element because this is what I love to do. I love to be able to take what’s happening and turn a negative into a positive to make the most of it,” says Pablo.

As reentry, especially in light of early releases prompted by health concerns over COVID-19, and criminal justice reform continues to be a topic of national conversation, businesses from a growing list of industries are evaluating hiring practices. Determined, resilient individuals like Pablo provide powerful proof that hiring from a diverse talent pool benefits the individual and company alike.

A Line in the Sand
“Everything that we go through can be used to build us up. I like to tell folks that we could draw a line in the sand from the day we met. Whatever they’ve done in the past does not have to matter,” shares Pablo. “They don’t have to go back to prison, but they can take the good things from there to progress into their new way of life.”

Many individuals leaving jail or prison have transferable skills from their previous life that they can readily apply to the future they envision. But as Pablo experienced firsthand, making that leap and drawing parallels can be difficult.

“I had all of these skills, but I had no idea that I could ever go someplace with them. I had a high level of responsibility in prison, and I never in my wildest imagination believed that someone would give me that same opportunity here in the real world.”

Employment Social Enterprises as A Lifeboat
“At Goodwill, they looked at my experience and said, ‘Okay. Let’s give this guy a chance,’” said Pablo. “That’s been the way of thinking at Goodwill Silicon Valley since I got here. They have helped me grow in my confidence and take the skills that I already had and build on them. That’s the spirit that I try to embody as I welcome new program participants.”

“Overall, I look at our work at Goodwill, and being an employment social enterprise, as a lifeboat. We teach people how to get back out there again and not be afraid. Wherever they’re coming from, this is a safe place to be,” says Pablo. “The environment and the way that change is happening is kind of infectious. The staff have a genuine desire to help people do better, and you can feel it. You can sense that change is happening.”

Envisioning a No-Entry System
In addition to his leadership role at Goodwill, Pablo currently sits on two county commissions working to reduce jail populations by reducing recidivism and increasing access to supportive reentry programs.

“Before I go into the county building for meetings, I always stop at the front entrance and look back at the county jail building across the street, and I remember where I came from. I remember how it felt to be in there,” reflects Pablo. “It’s my responsibility to not be shy and not worry about how I’m going to be perceived in that group. I have knowledge and an understanding because of where I come from, and I need to share that.”

Using his firsthand experience from his time at places like San Quentin Prison, Pablo helps others envision a no-entry system and sees the employment social enterprise model as a key solution and intervention.

“The judiciary system doesn’t have to be the only means of providing services to people. We could impact more youth and our communities with programs and services that are proactive and take into consideration the fact that if we start a little bit earlier, we might not have to see youth come through our criminal justice system.”

Becoming a Leader
As Pablo reflects on his past, he appreciates how far he’s come and feels a deep responsibility to push forward and advocate for others.

“I finally recognize and understand that I’ve been put into a position where I’m a pillar in this community.”

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