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Getting a Second Chance at Life: “I Accepted My Mistakes and Knew I Had a Purpose”

Ernesto Sanchez came to JVS SoCal through a re-entry program that gives formerly incarcerated individuals the opportunity to gain work experience through subsidized employment. Just months after joining the organization, he was recognized with a JVS SoCal Inspiration Award.

“I submitted myself to what rehabilitation is,” he shares about his early release from state prison for good behavior which took place in October of 2022. “I found ways to improve who I was and who I was destined to be.”

Ernesto grew up in South Los Angeles without a father. This affected him in ways he didn’t understand at the time.

“I dropped out of school in the 9th grade, joined a gang and started committing crimes to keep up with my friends at the time,” says Ernesto. At 18, he committed a crime that landed him in a California state prison with a 36-year sentence.

While it’s often said you must help yourself before you help others, Ernesto was the opposite. The cornerstone of his transformation was when he realized he had the ability to help others—while in prison, he mentored youth and men with addiction problems. He also trained dogs for war veterans and officers who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Ernesto also took advantage of opportunities to get ahead. He earned his GED and took various college-level courses and connected with organizations focused on restorative justice that helped him apply for early release.

“I had an epiphany—I found growth and meaning in my life and wanted to change,” he explains. “I accepted my mistakes and knew I had a purpose to correct the wrongs I had committed and to become someone different.”

In California, the latest recidivism rate reported was 44.6 percent. To reduce recidivism rates, the state contracts nonprofit organizations to provide re-entry programs that offer resources like transitional housing, mental health support and employment services.

Ernesto earned a 70-hour paid opportunity JVS SoCal at the America’s Job Centers of California WorkSource Center West Los Angeles through our partners at California Justice Leaders and Mass Liberation. He eventually became a full-time employee working alongside a career coach to help other men and women in the re-entry process.

“I love what I’m learning at JVS because I’ve done time and people coming here have too, and they want to talk with someone who resembles and understands them,” Ernesto says. “It makes it easier for them to connect and for us to lead them in the right direction.”

At first, Ernesto felt self-conscious coming to work as a former prisoner (he even covered his facial tattoos with makeup), but at the same time, he was empowered. “Not so long ago, I was on the prison yard with criminals, but this is a second opportunity for me to show my work ethic and how responsible I am.”

This work ethic paid off. Earlier this year, Ernesto received an award for his contributions to the community at the 2023 JVS SoCal Strictly Business Awards Dinner.

“I love my job,” says Ernesto. “There’s no better payment you can give this world than to help people. Your past doesn’t define you. You have to move forward and ask, ‘Today how can I make a difference?’”

If you’d like to help other men and women in reentry find a rewarding career that combines what they love doing with the ability to earn a good income, consider donating here.