Anthony wondered how his criminal past would affect his future. But when his interviewers heard his testimony, they said, "We can't not hire this man!"
Caught up in street life, Anthony Ramirez was once a long way from finding home. Drugs and gang violence led him from juvenile hall to county jail to prison. He bounced in and out of incarceration, not really belonging anywhere—until he met Jesus and dove headfirst into Christ-centered community behind bars, with the help of programming facilitated by Prison Fellowship®. He was released in 2015. (Read more of Anthony's story here.)
During Second Chance™ Month, Prison Fellowship sat down with Anthony to hear about his reentry experience and the power of a second chance.
Prison Fellowship: It's been a while since we last connected. Where are you now?
Anthony Ramirez: My wife, Ann, and I just moved to Wichita, Kansas. We had been living in Vallejo, [California], where I was working for a great Christian-owned manufacturing company, leading Bible studies, involved in a local church. I can't say enough about the importance of local church involvement for every believer. But in recent months we knew our time in California was up, and God was leading us elsewhere. I'm sitting on my porch, staring at World Impact's headquarters as we speak. They're actually renting this place out to us. (Anthony is a graduate of The Urban Ministry Institute, or TUMI, a program facilitated by Prison Fellowship in conjunction with World Impact.) Last week I started a new job with an asphalt paving company. ... I'm still welding, fabricating, building, repairing, doing maintenance. It's a lot of work with massive tools, crazy machines!
What was it like trying to find a new job all over again, along with the challenges of having a criminal record?
I came in for my interview, answered a lot of questions, and went on a tour of the facility. They also gave me a welding test to prove that I'm capable of the things my resume says I am. I found out that the guy who tested me was asked into the office to consult about hiring me or not. The staff had looked up the company I'd previously worked for and done some research on me. Of course, there's a lot of stuff they might find. They came back to me and said they had seen a video about my story, along with some articles. You see, while I was at my last job, I was able to do a couple of interviews—for Fox News, for a pastor, for Prison Fellowship—and these new employers were impressed. They saw how I had transformed and successfully rejoined the community. They saw how I'd shared my testimony and talked about my past compared to where I am now. They said, "Any man who's as transparent and honest about their past, and honest about their mistakes, we're interested in. We can't not hire him."
Wow. What was going through your mind at that point?
I was thinking, Oh, I'll just bring up my old boss to shine a little light on his company, give him some good press, share what incredible things God is doing. Lo and behold, it served a dual purpose. It not only turned into this really neat conversation about how God is working; it also helped my employers see, hey, this guy is worth a shot. I really needed to hear that. It's been rough, and my faith has really been tested these last few years.
What else has been challenging on this reentry journey so far?
During our transition to Kansas, it was tough being unemployed for a couple months. I'm thankful to be contributing financially again. While we were on our church search out here, it felt like some congregations wouldn't come near us with a 10-foot pole. It's tough having that experience at church, of all places. ... I just wonder if not enough of them have met prisoners or former prisoners ... it seems like that changes people's perspective.
What makes you hopeful for the days ahead?
Ann and I have really had to trust God in tough times—two miscarriages, two failed IUIs [intrauterine insemination]. It was painful. But now we're expecting a baby girl due in August. She's already strong, and man, she knows how to kick! I'm still wrapping my head around how to be a father to a daughter. [God] has a way of stretching us, growing us, shaping us.
Also, a couple nights ago, I saw a friend named Matthew, an ex-convict, ex-addict, now an intern with TUMI. He's opened some reentry homes and planted two churches. ... He was asking me, "What ministry do you want to get involved in here in Kansas? Write it down—I've got you. As soon as you're ready, we'll get started on paperwork." It's been on my heart for a while to get back into the prisons, but I couldn't do that in California [since I served time there]. I want to bring God's truth behind bars, from the outside in.
How do you feel about April being nationally recognized as Second Chance™ Month?
It's encouraging to me. It's easier for people who are involved with former prisoners to know that true change can come, because they see it. A lot of people who have never been to prison seem to struggle with the idea of transformation and second chances. If they're at all reluctant, they can't always believe if they haven't seen or experienced it. I hope Second Chance Month continues to grow and bring awareness, so more people have an opportunity to start fresh.
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