[EJP] really opens your eyes to the opportunities you may have if you’re prepared
- Isreal Gonzalez, EJP Alumnus
Israel Gonzalez moved to Chicago from Mexico with his parents when he was two years old. So when he was released from Danville CC in October of 2010, Gonzalez found himself not on the streets, but in another detention center, this time at “ICE,” or US Customs and Immigration Enforcement. It was another two weeks until he was finally released, but in a highly unfamiliar place. “I was released at the border by myself,” Gonzalez tells me. “I was alone and I had to find a way to get to my family who were here in Mexico City.”
A stranger in the border city where he landed, Gonzalez credits the kindness of a stranger with getting him through the first difficult days of freedom. He met an older lady in a store who, upon seeing that he was struggling, placed a call for him with her cell phone (a form of technology he had not yet learned to operate) and then directed him to a foundation for deported men where he could spend a few nights. And the family that Gonzalez was to live with? When they arrived two days later to pick him up, it was the first time that Gonzalez had ever met these relatives.
“Really you could say that [I had] 3 adjustments because it was being out, one; two, the new country; and three, living on your own as an adult,” Gonzalez explains. “I had to find a job and a purpose for my life.”
In searching for employment, Gonzalez was met with even more challenges. Because Mexico does not recognize the GED as equivalent to a high school diploma, Gonzalez’s many years of study in prison seemingly amounted to nothing. Without any work experience, Gonzalez says that “everywhere I looked they slammed the door in my face,” and he became deeply depressed.
However, Gonzalez’s luck changed when he moved into the home of his aunt, an English teacher. Because Gonzalez not only spoke English but had been trained through EJP’s Language Partners program to teach it, his aunt hired him to sell the didactic tools she had developed for the classroom. By visiting schools and meeting with teachers and zone supervisors, Gonzalez was eventually offered a teaching position at a small private school.
“Teaching grammar school is not at all like what I expected,” Gonzalez says. “It’s a lot harder than I thought. The information is so basic but it’s how you teach it and how you plan and all of the aspects that are involved within the classroom: how to discipline, how to keep them interested, how to involve parents, and then we have to teach not just English and Math and Spanish, we have to teach values. We’re educating children so it’s a big responsibility and it’s something that I never would have imagined.”
In the coming years, Gonzalez says that he plans to keep teaching, but at a higher level. He hopes to complete a high school program and continue on to higher education programs in Mexico, “to make my studies have value,” he explains.
“EJP really opens your eyes to the opportunities you may have if you’re prepared,” he says. “For me personally, it gave me a purpose.”