Former offender Granados gives hope to current students through WSD job expo
Reprinted from The ECHO
"I have been out [of prison] for five years, and it has been a very emotional day for me, coming back into a prison environment: the sights, the smells and the tattoos; it has definitely been a trip," J. Granados tells offenders while visiting the Torres Unit in Hondo, Texas.
Granados has returned to prison to speak to current offenders, and he is intent on motivating others to succeed — and change.
A visit back to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is difficult for this former offender; however, the terms of his invitation are exciting. He has been asked to share information about positive post-release employment opportunities as a part of a Job Expo sponsored by Windham School District (WSD). Businessmen and women, including a few former offenders like Granados, participate in WSD Job Expos statewide to help offenders find employment. They enter WSD schools inside the prison system to tell offenders about current employment opportunities. Since his release, Granados has been working with Yantis, a San Antonio construction and land company. He told job expo participants about his history with Yantis.
"What we do here at a Yantis is help build homes," he says. "Other people come in and knock down the trees for us, and our utility crew comes in and completes all the underground plumbing and pipe fixtures, laying down all the concrete reinforcements. We manage all the trucking and transportation services that are an important part of this enterprise. We do utilities, concrete, structural, and asphalt work.
"I am the Safety Manager and Insurance Claims Controller for Yantis," he says. "When we have a robbery, theft, accident or injury, I have to process the situation and get the guy to the hospital.
I have to make sure they get the right medical treatment, and I even investigate the accident or incident and report it.
I also process any incoming or outgoing insurance claims," Granados says.
"I started out as a regular laborer, straight off the shelf, doing the grunt work with a shovel, and I never complained once. Why not?" he asks. "Because I was incarcerated for 17 years. I worked for free. And now I'm actually getting paid. What's to complain about? I got out on Sept. 1 of 2010, and I came to prison in 1993. I was here because I committed a murder. But I worked my way up, and I did it in three years."
At age 21, Granados was incarcerated, angry, and intent on hurting others. Fortunately, a fellow offender gave him the advice he needed to change his negative response.
"I just couldn't stop being stupid," he recalls. "The anger was still roiling inside of me, until my homie told me to go to school and get an education. So finally, I got my GED, took any classes that were offered and got myself into the craft shop." He credits WSD's CHANGES pre-release program for getting his attention about behavioral change.
"In CHANGES, they teach us to stop and think, to analyze, to be cautious," he says. Granados emphasizes the importance of taking schooling seriously during incarceration. He tells offenders, "I want you guys to realize that everything these teachers are going to tell you is very useful, and at some point in time you are going to ask, 'Is this going to meet my needs? It may sound unrealistic at the time, but you will remember it.'"
Granados soon found that the combination of academics, behavioral change and job training programs would help him transition from 17 years of incarceration to employment and a clean life in the free world.
"I made my choice. This is what I want to do; something legitimate," he says. "Upon release, I first found a job with a company that was willing to hire me and accept me into their unique environment."
Granados started at a low-paying job, but worked his way up to Yantis. Now, he owns his own home and vehicle, bought with "...my money, not drug money; nothing illegal, but with the money I earned first with the shovel, and then with my intellect, brain, passion and drive. Now I'm a family man blessed with two beautiful children and a beautiful wife."
The process of gaining a job after being incarcerated was not easy, and Granados tells others it is difficult being an ex-convict in the working world.
"I was scared about being an ex-con and having the X on my back," he says. "Convict means different things to different people. It means cheater, liar, criminal, deviant and failure. You don't get an even chance. I just wanted an equal opportunity.
"What is needed to succeed and get that opportunity?" he asks. "It takes initiative, drive and will power. You will have plenty of setbacks and get kicked in the teeth, but you have to hang in there. Nothing is going to be handed to you; you have to prepare, work for it and stay positive and determined."
Today Granados is an OSHA outreach trainer and he's working on earning a bachelor's degree, his Certified Safety Health Official license, and his Certified Erosion, Sediment, Storm Water Inspectors license. He remains focused on building a new life. He says his family is his joy, his work is his pride, and his future is staked on the most important thing: change.
"Our change has to come from within," he says.