Isreal Guillen and his sister, Rosie.

 

By Evan Henerson

When he takes the mound at Dodger Stadium to throw a pre-game ceremonial first pitch during the Union Night at Dodger Stadium pre-game festivities, Isreal Guillen will have a ton of people on his team.

In addition to his family – his parents, girlfriend, daughters and grandchildren – Guillen will be backed by his second family. And that faction is huge. They include his union brothers and sisters from Laborers Local 300, co-workers from Miller Environmental and GGG Demolition and well-wishers from the Second Chance Pre-Apprenticeship Bootcamp from which Guillen graduated in May.

No pressure.

“I’m practicing my pitch,” says Guillen whose catcher will be none other than Rusty Hicks, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the LA County Federation of Labor. “I’m a little nervous.”

To a certain extent, the hard part is over with. After serving 22 and a half years of a life sentence in prison for an offense committed when he was 20 years old, Guillen returned to the outside world to face a labor market that was not exactly welcoming. Despite learning several new skills behind bars when he was working on the maintenance unit, Guillen faced an uncertain future in the civilian job market.

“Some companies I was with for like one or two weeks, once they heard I had a past, next thing I know I’m being laid off,” Guillen said. “Even during interviews, they would ask me to explain, and I’d say it was over a fight, and I’d get into details of how much time I did. It’s a turn off, and it’s very difficult finding work.”

Guillen spent his first two years of freedom moving between jobs like picking up trash and short term gigs with lengthy commutes. It was his friendship with Scott Budnick, founder and president of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, that opened a key door, and Guillen was invited to apply for the Los Angeles Reentry Workforce Collaborative and its Second Chance Pre-Apprenticeship Bootcamp.

A partnership between ARC, the L.A. County Federation of Labor, L.A. Trade Tech College and the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Trades Council, the bootcamp gives formerly incarcerated men and women the chance to earn a clean slate. After going through a series of exercises that focus on character building, responsibility and accountability, the boot camp graduates can move over to LA Trade Tech where they learn new skills that allow them to join a partnering union as an apprentice. As apprentices, they can earn certifications and transferable skills and ultimately gain employment.

“Many of these men were basically told that they were going to die in prison,” says Isaac Lopez, a life coach with ARC and the program’s pre-apprenticeship coordinator. “I’m finding that these people are incredibly disciplined and grateful for the opportunity. It has been a real pleasure to work with Isreal and the other lifers in the program.”

Up to 30 former inmates have enrolled in each of the first three bootcamp cohorts, but not everyone has made it through the program. Showing up late, lack of preparation or a failed drug test are all grounds for dismissal. Conversely, those who demonstrate their commitment get a leg up. They get the chance to discuss their employment goals with the heads of the partnering agencies as well as take hikes and go on retreats. Guillen was plucked out of the Second Chances bootcamp to participate in the Laborers 300 Bootcamp, a solid indication that the union liked what they saw in him.

After graduating with the Second Chances cohort in May, he joined the union and quickly caught on with Miller Environmental and GGG Demolition. In addition to Guillen’s steady employment and continued training to acquire additional skills, he also meets with other incarcerated men to serve as a mentor and to promote the program.

When asked about being part of a union, Guillen notes his “sense of pride and worthiness.

“I always wanted to be part of a union and I really wanted to be with Laborers Local 300,” he says. “There’s real brotherly love there.”

Union Night at Dodger Stadium is Friday, August 11 as the Los Angeles Dodgers face the San Diego Padres. Pre-game festivities begin at 6 pm. Tickets purchased through this link include a special edition t-shirt and groups who buy 40 or more tickets can designate a member to take the field during pre-game ceremonies. Visit www.dodgers/union for tickets.  

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