South Los Angeles Resident Recounts His Successful Transition from Incarceration to a Career in Construction
LOS ANGELES (April 29, 2022) – A South Los Angeles resident working on the Destination Crenshaw project spoke about his reentry journey earlier this week in a virtual roundtable hosted by the White House. James Morgan, a first-period apprentice laborer with PCL Construction and a member of Laborers Local 300, shared with roundtable listeners a compelling story of hardship, incarceration and personal transformation. Susan Rice, domestic policy advisor, Dana Remus, White House council, and Cedric Richmond, senior advisor to the president and director of the Office of Public Engagement, were all in attendance.
The White House also released a statement Tuesday outlining a comprehensive strategy that incorporates policy actions aimed at advancing employment, bolstering reentry, empowering formerly incarcerated persons, and strengthening communities and the economy.
Morgan explained that following a difficult childhood, he joined the U.S. Army and served as a combat engineer in Operation Desert Storm. Shortly after returning from Kuwait, Morgan separated from the military – an event that rattled his confidence and left him angry. Morgan spent the next few years in and out of prison for a variety of charges, eventually receiving a life sentence.
“I imagined that I would go through all sorts of things as a lifer in a California prison for the 22 years and eight months that I served (in prison), and I did,” said Morgan. “Never did I think that during this time aside that I would learn to break free of my heart’s and habits.” Morgan took advantage of the rehabilitative programs and services. “My incarceration was not just me paying for my crimes that I committed. It was also a journey of self-awareness.”
Morgan was eventually released to a transitional house in San Francisco. “My year in this transitional house was special because it was my final test and a victory lap as well,” he recounts. “I was given bits of freedom and lots of opportunities to become responsible.” Morgan obtained a license, opened a savings account and accumulated enough money to serve as his first and last month’s rent. There he also learned about the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC).
Through ARC, Morgan obtained work as a refinery tech. He later transitioned to construction, obtaining several certifications through the ARC’s pre-apprenticeship program, which is administered by the Los Angeles and Orange County Building Trades Council in partnership with the LA County Federation of Labor. He also attended regular weekly meetings with another organization, 2nd Call, to prepare himself for a career in construction. In September of 2021, Morgan began working as a PCL Construction-sponsored first-period apprentice on the Destination Crenshaw project, a 1.3-mile cultural infrastructure project along Crenshaw Boulevard.
Now, almost nine months later, Morgan is thriving in his new career. “In James, I see an individual who has accepted his past and is focused, determined and willing to step outside his comfort zone in order to move forward,” said Juan Mariscal, superintendent for PCL Construction. “He’s got the right attitude; his openness to accepting constructive criticism will be key to his success in this business.”
“James Morgan is an incredible asset to our team,” said Breana Weaver, diversity and inclusion manager for PCL Construction. “In addition to his contributions in the field, he freely offers his time to attend our worker outreach events where his story adds a humanizing touch to our recruitment efforts. Many attendees can relate to his first-hand account of personal struggle and are inspired to follow in his example. He is proof that people need opportunities to make a fresh start. It has been an honor to be a part of his journey.”
To view a recording of the Second Chance Month Roundtable, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPunPRQ3v7Y.
To learn more about the Anti Recidivism Coalition, visit https://antirecidivism.org/.
About PCL Construction
PCL is a group of independent construction companies that carries out work across the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and in Australia. These diverse operations in the civil infrastructure, heavy industrial, and buildings markets are supported by a strategic presence in more than 30 major centers. Together, these companies have an annual construction volume of more than $6 billion USD, making PCL one of the largest contracting organizations in North America. Watch us build at www.pcl.com.
About Destination Crenshaw
Destination Crenshaw’s mission is to improve the quality of life and revitalize the economy in South Los Angeles through arts and culture. For more information, visit www.destinationcrenshaw.la.