Ismael sits behind the wheel of a large delivery truck packed with lumber. Some days, he might find himself transporting the cargo to Fresno or Sacramento, while on others he might be headed south toward Las Vegas or San Diego. Regardless of the destination, Ismael’s focus is on getting the job done well and appreciating the journey along the way – an opportunity he doesn’t take for granted.

He describes life a few years ago as colorless and gloomy – a reflection of the gray walls of the prison where he spent nearly two decades of his life. The only days with a little bit of light included a visit from his mother and daughter.

Having grown up in a close-knit family where there was no shortage of love to go around, Ismael describes time spent at home with undeniable fondness. But life as a young man trying to survive in a rough neighborhood just outside of New York City in the midst of the crack epidemic meant that Ismael was presented with few avenues to positive choices. “I became a product of my environment,” he shares.

Upon his most recent release, Ismael knew that if his circumstances were going to change for the better, then he needed a change in scenery, so he made the tough decision to leave his family on the East Coast for a fresh start in California.

The transition was fast, and Ismael struggled to find his footing at first. He reflects, “I still had a lot of negative energy from prison, and I didn’t know where to start.” Despite being doubtful that employers would hire him with his background, Ismael found odd jobs to make ends meet. But he shares that there was a time when the new environment that surrounded him – one that promoted partying and substance use – threatened to derail all he had set out to do.

“I came out here with a purpose to better my life,” Ismael asserts, “I got caught up in that scene, but I took a step back and humbled myself.” So Ismael joined a rehabilitation program and pressed reset again with one thing top of mind: secure gainful employment to support himself and his wife, someone who has always been in his corner.

Referred to Chrysalis by his treatment program, Ismael approached his job search professionally from day one. He soaked up all that he could during the classes, got to work on his resume, and took advantage of practice interview sessions. Quickly recognized for his professionalism and reliability, Ismael was referred to Chrysalis Staffing, where he was later connected with job opportunities through our Direct Hire program. When asked what sticks with him most about the program, Ismael is quick to answer. “My Employment Specialist was there with me every step of the way.”

When Ismael sat down to interview with his future employer, he was prepared to convey with confidence what he would bring to the workplace. “The only thing I know how to do is work hard – not only to make the company I work for look good, but to make my Employment Specialist and Chrysalis look good, too.” Ismael left feeling good about the interview but wondering what would happen when the company ran a background check.

After a few weeks of not hearing back, Ismael took a detour while out on errands and asked to sit down with the hiring manager again. When his background came up, Ismael confirmed that while he had made choices earlier in life that he wasn’t proud of, he was ready to move forward. “My trials and tribulations made me stronger. I’m not ashamed of the things I’ve been through because they make me who I am today,” he affirms.

The company hired him on the spot, and just 90 days later, Ismael was promoted from a driver’s assistant to a driver. Today, Ismael continues to grow and considers ways he might be able to give back by inspiring a younger generation of men like himself who have been impacted by the criminal justice system.

As he prepares to go to school to secure his class C driver license, Ismael doesn’t let the momentum he has gained distract him from his main goal: to be there for his family. In addition to helping his daughter and granddaughter transition to the West Coast, Ismael reflects on life today with gratitude, “I have a good job, and I don’t take it for granted. I can pay my bills. I can take care of my daughter and granddaughter. I can help my mother. I have a roof over my head. I have a vehicle…. Life is beautiful. Today, I’m appreciative of life. I cherish life. I’m free.”

…And it all started when an employer looked at the potential of the individual in front of him instead of focusing on his past and said, “You’re hired.”