One of the biggest factors in determining whether a person released from prison will avoid going back is employment. Finding work, however, can be tough, especially for those who lack the skills required in a typical office job.
Vince Reyes of San Bernardino faced these challenges after he completed an 8-year sentence for intent to distribute. He refers to his time in prison as "college," because he spent so much time studying subjects like law and finance. But he still found it impossible to get a job after he was released.
"I actually applied to all these brokerage places, and they didn't hire me because I had a felony," he said.
When he wasn't studying in prison, Reyes spent his time working out. At the time, he had no idea he was actually training for his future profession. A friendship forged over pull-ups in a federal penitentiary in Ohio would be the connection he needed to find his career path.
The friend connected Reyes with A Second U Foundation, an organization that recruits, educates and provides job placement for formerly incarcerated men and women as personal trainers. Reyes enrolled in a six-week boot camp that combines barbells and business concepts to help prepare former felons to work in the fitness industry.
Hector Guadalupe founded A Second U after he established a successful career as a personal trainer, following a 10-year sentence for drug trafficking.
"I'm proud of how I was able to change my life, change my mindset and kind of step outside the box to help others," he said. "I fight to get these men and women employed."
For Guadalupe, staffing former felons as personal trainers was a no-brainer.
"If you spent 5 to 10 to 15 years working out the entire time, I figure you should give it a shot," he said.
A Second U now has more than 135 graduates working in gyms all across the country. The organization seeks out candidates with the right combination of physical fitness and mental determination.
"They're eager to live life," said trainer Rickey Burton. "They're eager to basically make up for everything that they missed while they were gone but now it's to do things different, bigger, better."
Reyes capitalized on his training and is now co-owner of Downtown Fit Camp in San Bernardino. Since his incarceration, he has built a career and a family. He has also developed a philosophy, which can be found painted on the wall of his gym.
"Be bigger than your excuses," he said. "You gotta be bigger than that."