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Former inmates get a second chance through learning a skilled trade

Posted at 5:29 AM, May 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-03 06:29:29-04

MILWAUKEE — Jim Gaillard has been an electrician for more than 30 years. Now he’s teaching young men in Milwaukee’s Amani Neighborhood the tricks and tips of the trade.

“We can go in there and make it seem so simple. And it’s just a good feeling that you can go in, and it’s almost like being a magician. You make magic happen,” Jim says about making repairs in people’s homes.

That’s a feeling of confidence he wants to pass on to his trainees with the Ezekiel Community Development Corporation.

“I knew I had a lot of friends and family members that had been incarcerated, chronically under-employed, that thought the only hope they had was out there on the streets,” Jim says. “And then when they started to see how to do this, a lot of them loved it.”

For Richard Buckner, electrical work is a more consistent and legal way to make money. He ended up in jail a few years ago for selling drugs.

“I just needed some extra money, trying to keep money in my pocket,” he says. “But I went and got it the wrong way.”

But now, Richard has steady work. He even helped flip a house in the Amani Neighborhood that he was able to buy for his family – including four kids.

“Oh, they loved it, they loved it,” Richard says. “Especially everyone having their own room and their own beds and everything. They loved it.”

Project manager Kevin Freeman says the training program is about more than just teaching young men and rehabbing houses.

“In the course of that, sometimes we revitalize and restore some of the residents as well, some of the pride that they have in their neighborhood,” Kevin says.

He knows firsthand how meaningful work can help keep someone out of jail. Kevin completed the training program after serving time for a firearms charge.

“Through having a job, a trade, it kind of gives you a sense of pride, a sense of purpose,” he says. “It gives you something to do every day to be engaged in.”

Jim recalls when he was a young man having a hard time finding union shops to train him. He says many of them were dominated by white men, so he’s glad his program can help add some diversity to the skilled trades.

And Jim is teaching his students how to stick to a high standard of excellence.

“They may talk about how you look or anything else, but they won’t be able to talk about your job. Keep your level of work up here,” Jim says.

And that dedication is paying off.

“They’re doing better work than some people I know [who] have been in the business as electricians for 20 or 30 years,” Jim says. “Want more. Believe you deserve more and go for it. Don’t stop and don’t let anyone else stop you.

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