This time last year, Lawrence Pela was in prison serving a 46-year sentence. His release date was originally set for February 2048. Lawrence luckily benefited from new legislation which made his release possible after serving 12 long years apart from society. Lawrence was released July 13th, 2019. What should have been a joyous day for him was marred by uncertainty. Lawrence was barely an adult when he was originally sentenced and now he was being released without any idea of where he should be or what he should be doing.
Lawrence was fortunate enough to have family and friends who encouraged him to pursue legitimate pathways to meaningful employment. Their words and sentiment encouraged him to pursue truck driving as his career. It was perfect. Lawrence had always loved driving and being out on the road, it was perfect. The only problem was that he didn’t have the money to pay for the lessons he needed to get his Class A license. Lawrence was able to land a job with a lighting company while trying to find viable pathways to his true career goal.
After expressing his desire to pursue truck driving as his long term goal to his case managers at the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), they directed him to the West Oakland Job Resource Center as they were just rolling out the TDL Pre-Apprenticeship Program that gave students a chance to become an apprentice with the Teamsters Union. There, Lawrence knew he would be able to accomplish his dream as they offered lessons at no cost to the students but he knew he would have to work hard to be one of the students selected for the apprenticeship.
“For a lot of my life, before I went to prison, I never completed anything” said Lawrence. “Now working and getting into this field, I feel like it’s all coming together. It’s really making me believe that if you work hard, anything can happen and it’s not all for nothing.” And work hard he did. Lawrence was a stand-out student in the class, noted for his calm, confident demeanor, professional attitude, and tenacious work ethic. He completed the class with perfect attendance, earned his Class A permit the week after he completed the program, and was selected for the apprenticeship classes soon after.
Given what he’s been through, most would expect Lawrence to a diamond in the rough at the very best. Lawrence’s determination to succeed and right the ship has shone through his negative past and he is living proof that a person’s past does not determine who they are. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have put a hold on his dream, he is still just as excited to get behind the wheel of that big rig as he was when that lightbulb first went off in his head.