This is the second part of our Blogger, Minette’s, description of what happened when her son was released from prison and his journey back into society.
My son went back to community college to be trained as a welder and get a degree in machine tool technology. He took to that skill right away. As a kid, he had remarkably steady hands. I hoped he would be a surgeon, that boat sure sailed without us. Years ago, when my son was about 12, we went to an airport and to kill time waiting for our connection, we stopped in a store that said if you solve this puzzle, they will give it to you for free. It was one of those wooden games where you had to carefully move the container back and forth to get the marbles into the right holes. You had to have perfect timing and very controlled hand movements to succeed. Neither I, nor a friend who was with us, could avoid letting the marbles fall into the wrong holes, but my son managed to successfully complete the trial twice. We only took one free game, too embarrassed to take more. The saleslady and I were amazed.
He had artistic skills, too. Combined with the steady hands, he was perfect for welding. Lucky for him, he also had parents who would pay for school and all the supplies he needed. Lucky for us, it was community college, so not so expensive. Plus, as he progressed through semesters, he got a Pell Grant to cover some of the cost.
In the welding industry, a criminal record is usually not a hindrance to employment, although it may impact a person’s opportunity to work for or contract with any organization that needs to have security clearances. This may be overcome after parole is over.
He went to school in the evening, after the canopy work was done. In class another student saw his work and asked him if he would interview with his employer, a machine fabrication shop. It was indoors, a major advantage during the Arizona summer, and it offered the opportunity to learn about a variety of equipment. He went to the company, they gave him a welding test and an interview, and indeed, he got the job. So after almost two years at the canopy company, he left. It was on good terms and they said the door was always open if there was a problem.
I was a little concerned about the new company. Yes, I realized all the advantages, indoors and exactly the kind of work he actually wanted to do, but I was leery about the company ownership. While the company was established in Arizona for decades, it was a recent leveraged buyout, and so often owners like that find a way to substantially reduce costs. I warned him, but he went ahead.
At the shop he started at the bottom, the tools he used the most were the vacuum and broom. But he watched the other guys using the various CNC machines, lathes, lasers, things I knew nothing about. Some people have a knack for learning by watching, not me. Over the years, his father would ask him to work with him while he fixed something. His dad was very handy, but he wanted people to do things exactly as he did them. I found it difficult to work with him because the moment you did something a little different, he would just take over and you would have to watch him. My son did learn from each of those experiences, I never seemed to. At the machine shop, he learned more. But about eight months after he started, the owners decided to move the business to Mexico, almost everyone lost their jobs over the next few months. He was among the last to go, but this time, he did not find another job. He continued to go to school and do what he had to, to meet his parole requirements. That was good. Luckily for him, a good friend bought a house around this time and it needed renovations. So, my son stepped in to be the general contractor and do whatever he could on his own. He collected unemployment insurance to cover some of his personal expenses. His friend gave him some money but mostly he gave him rent credit. When the house was finished, my son would be able to move in with him for free for a while. It amazed me that he knew how to do so many construction jobs. He said he watched YouTube videos and learned. When he hired someone to do something, he watched.
Sometimes he would pick up small welding jobs too. We set up a corporation for him, but the jobs seemed few and far between. He did get jobs from friends he was close with who he met when he was staying sober between age fifteen and eighteen. The organized group aged out at eighteen. Situations like that create tight bonds. He socialized with this group of friends. Their lives went on. They married and started to have children. He stayed involved in their lives. These were people he trusted. He stayed away from people he did not know, unless someone in this group spoke up for them. This was his way of being sure he would not get into trouble. He would have long term relationships with some very pretty, sweet girlfriends, but eventually he would break up with them, all normal for a twenty something. I guess I would say he was moving forward with his life very slowly. But forward is the right direction.
Eventually the house was built, and he moved out of our house and into his friend’s house. It started out with three guys moving in. Each had their own bedroom; my son welded his own bed-frame with attached storage and table surfaces. It was very impressive. It was a nice house on five acres. My son built a chicken coop, sitting benches, a raised bed garden enclosure, and a covered work area for his welding and the third kid’s car repair business. That twenty-something bought cars at auction, repaired them and resold them. The kid who owned the house partnered with him and often funded the original purchase. These kids were industrious and enterprising but focused on working for themselves rather than others. In my son’s case, that may have been the best option. Despite his getting a job right away when he got out, having a criminal record can hold you back. We all believed he’d be better off long term being his own boss.
The boys’ schedules were variable. Each one was coming and going from the house depending on if they had a job that day, a class to go to or a car to work on. The vibe at the house was very relaxed. If my son didn’t have a job, he would work in the garden or with the chickens. Every once in a while, my son would bring us fresh eggs. Eventually the kid that owned the place had his girlfriend move in. Besides going to school, she ran an adventure club in town, so my son started some serious hiking in the nearby mountains. He was healthy and fit, and very importantly, clean, but still not making much money.
His luck would change. Another person he met through his old group of friends asked him to come work for him in a company he had started about five years earlier. It was a company that made performance metal equipment for trucks. This was perfect – he loved trucks, he found the equipment they manufactured interesting, they told him he could use their shop for some of his own work if it didn’t interfere with their work. He would handle customer service and work in their shop. It was very busy at first, most of the staff was concentrating on getting ready for the SEMA show, an annual automotive specialty products trade show in Las Vegas, so they could really use his help. He was working full time, even some overtime for several months. After the show, things settled down. His hours were reduced. But it turns out, it was alright. While he was working greater hours, he was thinking ahead, putting some of his earnings into online advertising for his own welding business, and the advertising actually worked. His phone started ringing! He continued to think like a business person and bought equipment and tools to make him more efficient. This is a significant change from someone who was thinking like an addict and a criminal. He believed in his future.
During this time, I would go down to Florida and visit my parents. Still saying nothing to them. Just everything was fine, same thing I had been saying for over a decade. They surmised my son had a drug problem, but not everything else. Now, I could tell them my son was back at school and working and doing well.
While down there, I’d visit with my friend who, throughout all our troubles with my son, kept telling me everything was going to be alright. But that is all she’d say. She’d comfort me, telling me he was a smart kid, it will work out. But now, after all this – the addiction terrors, the heartbreaking legal trouble, the frightening relapse, the probation, the incarceration, the parole, she told me her secret. She told me when she was a teenager, her brother, who was about ten years older than her, had gone to prison. We were talking about him because he had died a few months earlier. He was in his seventies, an early death, but she had kept his secret, the family secret, his whole life. But now she felt it was alright to talk about. Despite all those times it would have fit perfectly into our conversations about my son, she just couldn’t say it. It happened so many years ago, but like I said in my very first post, before we had this conversation, prison is the last skeleton in the closet to be revealed. I love her, and I hurt for her.