When he sets his mind to something, Jose Ornelas Vallejo will get the job done. Driven, motivated, and with a can-do attitude, Jose was an ideal recipient for one of the EJP scholarships offered this spring. Formerly incarcerated individuals residing in Mexico with a strong desire to study at a secondary or post-secondary education are eligible to apply for funding through a scholarship competition.
With hopes of becoming an English teacher, Jose – who resides in Guadalajara, Jalisco – proved to be a worthy candidate. When asked about his plans to use his scholarship funds, Jose shared that he was eager to finish his high school degree so he could move on to the local university. “I never had a chance to finish high school,“ Jose says. “I was too busy running around, not doing what I was supposed to be doing when I was young. Now, as I’m getting older, I think the best thing to do is get an education and take it from there.”
After growing up in Venice Beach, California, Jose knew that his strong English language skills would prove useful in pursuing work post-incarceration, saying, “Your language, that’s one thing they can never take away from you, ya know?” What he didn’t expect was for it to be useful during his time of incarceration in Mexico. During his sentence, the director of the prison approached Jose and other English-speakers and asked them if they would consider teaching others on the inside.
“It’s better off for [incarcerated individuals] to teach other [incarcerated individuals] because you know, we understand each other, right?” Jose explains. “So they got us a couple of books and we started teaching some people there… and there were people really excited about learning the language. So it was good. I had a very good experience… It made me feel happy, you know, to help people out and I liked teaching people what I already know.”
Jose is excited to continue teaching English because he knows that, in Mexico, a knowledge of the language can provide additional chances for employment and other opportunities. He also enjoys building relationships with others through teaching. “I think that teaching other people what you already you know–that’s giving back. And I want to give back.”
When asked if he has encountered any challenges post-release in regards to his pursuit of education, Jose detailed his experience between cultures. “I’m not from the United States, and I’m not from Mexico. I have the Chicano tradition, but there’s a language barrier and our culture out here is totally different than in the United States. There’s a lot of negativity when you come out here. You struggle. It feels like nobody wants to really look into you and try to help you out at all, since you come from a country that deported you for who knows what reason.”
Despite the final step of completing his high school diploma, Jose remains committed to his goal of becoming an English teacher. “When I was younger, I didn’t have any goals. And when I came out this time, one of my goals was to have a job- and I do have one now. My next goal was to have a home-and I have it now. And my next goal now is to finish high school, and I’m gonna do that. I can honestly tell you guys that it’s never too late to get on your feet.”
When considering barriers to pursuing higher education in his future, Jose had this no-nonsense philosophy to share, “There’s no barriers. You know, there’s no barriers to do it – you got to have a mindset of what you want in life. Because if your mind is not set, then you’re not going to get there. But if you set your mind, trust me, you will reach your goals sooner or later. Never give up. Keep on pushing.”