By Laura Nott, adapted from a post in the San Diego Union-Tribune
Imagine a world without the internet. No laptops, no cellphones. A world in which online appointments or banking or weather or traffic reports are not constantly at your fingertips. Imagine coming from that world, then being thrust onto the streets of San Diego and trying to adapt.
Frankie Perez came from that world. He spent the past 40 years in prison, but when he was released in April 2022, he had goals. He wanted a career. At age 58, he knew he first had to get a grasp of technology. He had to be able to communicate and thrive in the digital age. His first stop was the Center for Employment Opportunities, a national nonprofit agency that provides employment training and services to those trying to overcome criminal histories and re-enter society. Perez learned how to operate a computer, and familiarized himself with Microsoft Word and Excel. He learned how to navigate the internet with Google.
Two months later he started an 18-month paid apprenticeship with Rise Up Industries in San Diego, a program that assists former prisoners and those with records in the criminal justice system to transition into the job market. Perez is training to become a computer numerical control machinist, which requires computer literacy because it is run on an internet-based system. Rise Up offers other services as well, including counseling and financial advice. It is precisely what Perez needed, leaving prison with dreams of living a good life on the outside.
“I’m really proud of how far I’ve come in a short time,” he wrote recently in a commentary published in the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Professionally, I’m learning and excelling at whatever I set out to do.”
Perez has even begun a second job in a machine shop. He plans to finish his apprenticeship at Rise Up, then get his certification.
“Eventually, I hope to purchase my own milling machine, pursue a contractor’s license and start a business,” he told the Union-Tribune. “While my goals may sound lofty, I have the wherewithal to make them happen.”
While it is often difficult for those who have been imprisoned to find employment and make a new place in society after their release, Perez has seen that there is help on the outside. He would like others about to exit the prison system to know they are not alone.
“I owe a lot to the people and organizations that have supported me
since I left prison,” Perez wrote. “I can only hope others who are
returning to their communities realize they also have the opportunity
for a wonderful life.”
Read Frank Perez’s full commentary in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Photo: Frank Perez, left, and Robert Smith, San Diego County
director of the Center for Employment Opportunities