After spending most of his adult life behind bars, Ismael knew there had to be more to life than being an inmate. He was serving time in San Quentin when he had this epiphany.
During the winter of 2008, shortly before his transfer to San Quentin prison, Ismael received a gift. Unbeknownst to him, it would be the catalyst in transforming his life. Jail protocol authorized each inmate to receive a bag of 4 cookies from a local non-profit. When Ismael received the gift, he thought it was a blessing. "Wow, somewhere out there - someone - is thinking of me."
Ismael drew inspiration from the modest gift and began taking immediate steps to improve his life. He began envisioning his life without the prison confines - no more filth and grime covering the walls, no more blood soiled mattresses and simply being able to walk around without fear.
After being transferred to the prison he completed his GED and enrolled in the facility's rehabilitation program. Upon his the 3rd release from San Quentin prison in July 2009, Ismael's parole officer told him to go to JobTrain. Ismael had never heard of the organization, but his parole officer assured him that JobTrain would give him the requisite tools to succeed in life.
In August 2009, Ismael enrolled in JobTrain's Culinary Arts program. In addition to receiving the fundamentals of professional cooking from a nationally renowned instructor, Ismael learned leadership and life management skills.
Four months into his curriculum, Ismael's instructor Chef Adam Weiner informed the class of a special project. He asked, "Who wants to be project lead in our annual tradition of preparing Christmas cookies for the inmates at Maguire Correctional Facility?" Ismael immediately raised his hand, enthusiastically accepted the role and said, "Last year your cookies got me through a really tough time. Had it not been for JobTrain and those cookies, I would've had nothing for Christmas."
Needless to say, Ismael rose to the occasion and prepared 8,000 cookies for all the inmates. He even worked with JobTrain staff in producing 1300 notes of inspiration for each inmate which read:
A lot can change in just one year.
I sat where you are today and wondered if my life would ever change.
I learned from my mistakes and realized I had the power to create a better life.
For all that its worth - I believe in you and know that you can transform your life too.
There are resources and opportunities that await you
Ismael's personal account of triumph and perseverance was featured in the San Jose Mercury News and on Univison's program Al Despertar.