The State Worker

VIDEO: How a Caltrans job changed one parolee’s life

Graduate says Caltrans parolee program changed his life

An ex-convict talks about what his Caltrans job means to him.
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An ex-convict talks about what his Caltrans job means to him.

The bottle and the rage had already ruined Rudy Contreras’ life before he hurt a cop in 2011.

He’d lost his welding job in Fresno. Wife and kids: Gone. Fresno home they had bought together: Lost.

And after running over the foot of a Fresno police officer during a traffic stop, Contreras lost his freedom.

“I caught a three-year assault charge,” Contreras said. “I lost everything.”

Today, however, the barrel-chested 38 year old is a redemption story. He’s no longer boozing. Caltrans hired him last year as a highway maintenance worker. He has reunited with his family. He’s mending his credit and hopes to soon purchase another home.

Contreras’ transformation started with a program for parolees that took him after he served 18 months of his sentence.

The transitional job-training gives parolees counseling, work – Contreras said he took home about $500 every two weeks – job interview skills and a chance to develop a work ethic.

Since 2009, about 2,200 people have graduated from the Caltrans parolee work program with blue-collar skills in areas such as landscaping and construction.

“Less than 5 percent (of graduates) return to custody,” said Keith Lane of the Butte County Office of Education, which coordinates the Caltrans training program statewide.

Contreras was in training for six months, then applied for the Caltrans job and came out on top of a field of 26 finalists. He started with Caltrans last summer.

The job, he says, “has changed my life. I can hold my head up.”

During a litter pick-up event on Highway 99 in Sacramento, Contreras took a few minutes to talk to The State Worker. Some highlights: