(NEW YORK) — It was just three years ago that Lawrence Jaramillo and Joshua Melendrez were inmates at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility. While there, the two were part of a state-run forestry program that helped inmates learn about fire prevention and fire fighting.
At times, they were among those on the front lines of a blaze.
Now, in the time since their release, Jaramillo and Melendrez have started their own forestry company in hopes of both assisting the state with forest fires and proving to the public that there’s life beyond incarceration.
“I have a lot of family members that have been in and out of prison. Some of them keep going back. I would like them to see they could make it,” Jaramillo, 40, told ABC News in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “We all have a chance.”
Jaramillo began working in the inmate work camp program in 2015. Through it, he learned about forest prevention tactics, including forest thinning, the process of cutting and removing overgrown brush and trees that can fuel fires.
During his time in the program, he began talking with Melendrez, 34, about starting a company once they were both out.
“All we thought was, ‘Hey, let’s start a business and see what we can do. If we fail, we fail. If we don’t, awesome,'” Jaramillo said.
They were released separately — Jaramillo in January 2018 and Melendrez in July 2017 — but came together soon after and secured their business license in November 2019 for All Around Forestry.
Their first job came at the beginning of 2020, and they’re currently working a new one at Ponderosa Christian Camp in Sandoval County, New Mexico.
They hope to keep the jobs coming. They also hope to expand.
All Around Forestry has six employees, all of whom worked through the same program, and the co-founders have encouraged other former inmates to apply.
“There is life after prison, and that’s what I would like for them to take from this,” Jaramillo said.
Melendrez told ABC News that the employees have developed a sense of brotherhood, both through the program and now the company.
“We all know the same rules about what we need to do for this fire prevention,” he said.
Laura McCarthy, New Mexico’s state forester who helps run the program, told ABC News that it began some 21 years as a way to help prisoners develop skills to transition back into society.
“As the inmates get to a point where they’ll be eligible for minimum-security clearance, they can get assigned to our crew,” McCarthy said.
Since then, she added, wildfires in New Mexico have increased, and the extra help has been needed.
But this is the first time, while serving as the state’s forester, she said she’s seen former inmates start their own business.
“We’re very proud of these men for not only developing the skill set,” McCarthy continued, “but the mindset that they both want to be running a business and want to be employing other former inmates.”
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