Work program provides a second chance

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WHITTIER – At 38 years old, Henry Aguirre is learning to live a new life. He loves the freedom he feels when he wakes up hungry in the middle of the night and can walk to his refrigerator for a snack in his own apartment. More than anything, he loves being a father to his seven children. He can buy them presents with hard-earned money from his two jobs, and they are getting used to having a father involved in their lives. “My goal is my kids,” said Aguirre, with tears in his eyes. “It’s hard, because a lot of people mistake me as being a mean person. Honestly, I never shed a tear my whole life until last year. I had a lot of hate.” For most of his life, Aguirre has been either in prison or on drugs and involved in gang life. Now he is finishing off his last year of parole after his most recent prison stint for kidnapping and robbery. This time, though, he doesn’t plan on returning. With the support of his employer, Los Angeles Freightliner, he’s been able to get on his feet. The company hired Aguirre two years ago, after El Monte police Detective Kurt Timken recommended him for the job when Timken met Aguirre during a fundraiser for a family whose 5-year-old daughter was killed by a gang member. Aguirre now helps manage credit accounts as a credit and core operations clerk for the truck parts manufacturing company in Whittier. Company executives admit they were taking a chance when they hired Aguirre. But he was so successful that they have since hired four other parolees. Conan Barker, president of L.A. Freightliner, said hiring parolees increases the company’s liability if they commit crimes at the workplace. “Beforehand, we wouldn’t hire ex-cons because of the legal liability,” Barker said. “California laws make it hard to do this. It’s no surprise that businesses don’t participate in programs like this – liability.” The company has taken an organic approach in supporting the parolees. L.A. Freightliner Parts Manager Kent Larson goes beyond his job duties to keep an eye on Aguirre and other parolees at the company. They have become friends. “Before Henry, I was a little skeptical about hiring a parolee,” said Larson. “Now that I’ve hired five parolees, I see that they’re above everyone else. They’re here every day. They know they have to work harder than the next guy.” Barker agreed that working with parolees has been a benefit to the company. “It was driven by a desire to do something good for the community,” Barker said. “There’s a support group here now. Henry’s a great role model. He came in at entry level and worked his way up. It shows the other guys that they can do this.” L.A. Freightliner has given the men one of the hardest things to get for people with criminal records – a job. That job, coupled with support from managers and co-workers, has helped the five parolees become productive citizens. Many other parolees struggle with drug and alcohol addictions, not having Social Security cards and driver licenses, back child support payments and, above all, finding a job. These difficulties make it easy for them to fall back on old habits, said Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Division of Parole Operations District Administrator Jerome Marsh. The recidivism rate for parolees is more than 50 percent in California, according to state statistics, and policy makers and legislators struggle with ways to reintroduce former prisoners back into society as productive residents. “The prisons are full,” Marsh recently told about 60 newly released parolees who attended a Police And Corrections Team meeting in Santa Fe Springs. The meeting brought the parolees in contact with dozens of local employers and social service agencies. “The goal is that you folks make it here in the community,” Marsh told the men. “We can’t do it for you. “The time you spent in state prison is actually a liability when you come out, because the things you did in jail – and you all know what I’m talking about – aren’t useful here.” Aguirre is learning to live in the outside world – to pay his rent on time, to spend time with his children, to keep away from old habits. “After a year \, I felt like I wanted to go back to prison for a vacation,” he said. “That’s why a lot of people end up going back. When it gets too hard on the streets, it’s a relief.” But Aguirre loves his freedom – and his job – too much. “I can’t wait to come to work,” he said. “I’m hooked.” sandy.mazza@sgvn.com (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3026last_img read more