I am not a hubcap stealer. I’m not a criminal that just survived, I lived well. I robbed banks. I robbed jewelry stores. I sold drugs. I was very industrious. I had nice vehicles. I lived in nice places. I wore nice clothes. I supported a drug habit.

But I came here and I saw other people that were on the prison yard with me and I saw them getting promoted. At the end of every shift my supervisor would come to me and say, “Hey, you’re doing great. See you tomorrow!” That’s what got me through my first couple of weeks here when I wanted to walk away. I knew if I kept working and kept learning and going that extra step that I would make a wage that I could actually live on that I wouldn’t have to supplement in other ways. When an employer goes that extra step a person can’t help but go that extra step too, at least for me. Convicts respect loyalty.

On February 2 I signed my papers for health insurance. As of right now my job, its benefits, is the proudest thing I have in my life. I’ve been shot four times, stabbed a half a dozen, ran over twice and pushed off a 3-story building. And I’d just show up in the emergency room and I give a fake name and get treated and move on. I went to the hospital when I was bleeding, other than that I didn’t go.

I ran away from home when I was 12 years old. I grew up in the streets of Hollywood and LA, and so the one or two times I did hold a job I felt like an outsider. I didn’t have a wife and kids, I didn’t have a barbeque. I didn’t know that kind of life.

I hadn’t been working here very long when I just felt something. What you feel here (in your heart) with your coworkers and the feelings of belonging make it just that much easier to walk away from that guy out there who just sees you as just another person to sell something stolen too or to buy drugs from. The moment I walk through that door every day, I feel safe.

I owe this company so much.  I love how people look at me. I love how I look at myself. I write for Street Roots. My things are getting published. I’ve talked with people in HR about going to college again, journalism or creative writing. If you would have told me August 4 that I’d have a job that wasn’t just a job but that I’d make a decent living with health insurance and a 401k, and that I would be sober I would have laughed at you or flipped you off.