Re-entering society presents many challenges for people leaving prison, but a former inmate of a Connecticut prison found an opportunity and jumped on it.
Angel Torres says his employer, Whitcraft, took a second chance on him that enabled him to turn his life around.
Every morning, Torres arrives in Plainville, heads to the employee entrance, and starts his day at 6:30 a.m. He is a machinist for Whitcraft, an aircraft manufacturer. However, his life did not always have this routine.
“You know, I made a mistake in my life,” Torres said.
Get Connecticut local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Connecticut newsletters.
He says that mistake was major.
“I was just hanging out with the wrong crew. I got involved in alcohol, drugs. And then I started doing robberies, committing robberies, and that’s how I came to be incarcerated,” he said.
Torres was incarcerated for six-and-a-half years at Willard Cybulski Correctional Facility in Enfield.
“I was locked up for 20 to 23 hours a day. Sometimes 24 hours, depending on if there were riots, fights. I thought my life was over,” Torres said.
Then as the end of his sentence approached, he got an opportunity. Torres was accepted into a second chance program.
“I just remember when I got into the second chance program, I was so happy, you know, because not a lot of people get selected to go there,” he said. “It was very different from the whole prison life. They had computers there, we were able to polish up our resumes, we would do mock interviews.”
That was in 2017. Two years later, the program was sending inmates out to the workforce.
“I remember I kept writing essays, paragraphs on how I could change my life, my family's life around, my kids,” Torres said.
He was selected and started working at a different Whitcraft facility in Eastford.
“That's when my life really changed,” he said.
It catapulted Torres into the job he has today, now out of prison and on parole. But Torres says this would have been very hard to achieve if it weren’t for the program.
“I think it would have been tough,” Torres said. “I hear a lot of people that when they come out, no employers want to hire them because they have track records.”
Besides Torres, Whitcraft is hiring dozens of other people that are making the transition from incarceration and re-entering society.
“We have nine gentlemen that are being bussed every day on second shift to the plant, and then they also are bussed back at the end of their shift,” Jacqueline Gallo, Whitcraft’s chief operating officer, said. “When people finish or get released or graduate, as I call it, then they continue to work for us. And we hopefully are able to fill that spot with another person who’s in the prison.”
Gallo said about 30 inmates have worked for Whitcraft since the program started in 2018. Right now, there are also about half a dozen employees hired out of halfway houses. Gallo is driving these efforts because she believes in second chances.
“Sometimes they just find themselves in circumstances that are difficult,” she said. “It can happen to anyone. I say sometimes that we're all three or four decisions away from being in a similar situation. And so I think these people deserve that level of respect and humanity.”
Gallo knows it can change a life as it did for Torres.
“It felt so good. I was able to send money home to my kids, to my daughters. And they're like, ‘Oh, wow, dad, how are you doing this? How are you sending us money?’ You know, and I told them, and they just couldn't believe it,” Torres said.
To him, showing up each day is not just about a job. It is also a way to reclaim his family and reconnect with his three kids.
“As they got older, they understood what I did, and they knew I committed a mistake,” Torres said. “Now I just got to prove to everyone, and to myself, that I’m not that person anymore.”