LOS ANGELES-Getting a second chance at having a normal life is not always an easy proposition for individuals who spend time behind bars. Being locked up can be a nosedive on their futures once they experience freedom again. Ostracization, societal rebuke, dead end jobs, and self-esteem issues become their best friend. That’s not to mention the possibility of being denied the opportunity to vote or participate in other civic engagement activities that can make them feel normal.
Flirtation with old demons and temptation usually invite themselves back into these individual’s lives if a program or a positive foundation is not in place to help elevate them from their past. For the 24 men and women picking up graduation certificates at Los Angeles Trade Technical College on Tuesday, Aug. 28, that platform turned out to be the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor’s Second Chance Pre-Apprenticeship Bootcamp.
A forged partnership between the Los Angeles County of Federation of Labor, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Los Angeles/Orange Counties, Building and Construction Trades Council, and Los Angeles Trade Technical College, have formulated the Second Chance Pre-Apprenticeship Bootcamp program to help those formerly incarcerated get back into the swing of living again.
Learning skills for jobs like how to become an electrician, plumber or painter is at the center of the program’s purpose, which graduated its third class. Once graduates complete the 12-week course, they are placed in union apprenticeships that provide paid job training, solid wages and possible career advancement.
For 48-year-old Dewayne Hulbert, who has three children, the program has represented a complete turnaround in his life. Hulbert spent 25 years behind bars for committing multiple criminal offenses, including robbery and dealing drugs. The Second Chance Apprenticeship Bootcamp has been a life-changer for him, Hulbert said.
“It changed my world,” Hulbert said. “I’ve gone from dead end jobs, dead end jobs, and dead end jobs, to now being able to hold my head up as a solid citizen and have a career.”
To put behind the baggage of his past, Hulbert had to come clean with himself and with the people closest to him.
“I’m not trying to pass judgement on my family, but we were what you’d consider career criminals,” he said. “We lived by the street code one hundred percent. So, for me to step out of that box and get back into society is overwhelming. I want to break the chain.”
Yesenia Rito spent five years serving time under the Rackateer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act). The challenge for Rito, who wants to be a painter, was overcoming the tough physical rigors the program called for. But she said it worth it considering that the benefits of the bootcamp outweighed the negatives of having to get up early in the morning. Being behind bars those five years made her determined to be a better person.
“While you’re in there, all you think about is getting out and trying to do better for yourself,” said Rito, who is just 26. “The reality, though, when you come out here it’s real hard for you to get a job. Most people don’t actually hire a convict or hire someone with a criminal history. This program opens the door for you. It has helped us a lot, and it shows us that we could do better and we are better. A person can change, and people do make mistakes, but we can make better of ourselves.”
Anthony Vergara is looking forward to his pathway to becoming an electrician. The Second Chance Apprenticeship Bootcamp has been an amazing experience for him to recapture his future. For most of his 23 years spent behind bars, it didn’t look like he had a future at all. That’s because that future looked like it would be nothing but steel bars as Vergara was serving out a life sentence for murder.
A former gang member, Vergara said he had lost hope about anything until he accepted Christ into his life. His life sentence was reduced. But getting acclimated back into society would prove difficult.
“The first eighteen or nineteen years…I had no hope, Vergara said. “I didn’t go to school. I didn’t participate in any classes, because I didn’t think I would ever get out. I gave my life to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and from the point forward, I had hope. I learned that I owe it to my family, I owe it to my victims instead of just sitting there and giving up…I had a responsibility.”
Vergara is excited to start his new life.
“This program is huge because coming out of prison with that record, not too many people are going to give me a second chance,” Vergara said. “It’s important for me to be around people who are willing to take that chance with me.”