Former inmates talk about staying out of prison

Published: Jun. 14, 2017 at 10:45 AM AKDT
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Rey Soto Lopez has been many numbers in his life. Today, he’s number four.

On Friday, Soto Lopez found out he is fourth in line for an apprenticeship with the


"It actually means the world to me, for so many reasons," he said right after graduating the program. "No. 1, I’ve never had a job in my life."

He has spent the majority of his adult life behind bars. For more than 17 years, the only numbers that really mattered were his inmate number and how much time he had left to serve.

That’s because he was convicted of murder, in 2001.

"I committed a reprehensible crime," he said.

He’s one of the many felons who work their way through the justice system, serve their sentence and have to figure out what to do with their lives after being released. Many, like Soto Lopez, were selling drugs, or stealing, to get by, before they were incarcerated, making the transition to outside life that much harder.

A new report from the Alaska Department of Labor says that felons who come out of prison, and are able to find jobs in the first year, are less likely to go back to prison.

In fact, those who find jobs in the first 6 months, and make more than $32,500 per year, see recidivism rates drop to 35 percent. That’s well below the average of rate of 67 percent.

It was a long road to getting an opportunity like this for Soto Lopez.

He said his attitude was bad, when he first got to prison. He didn’t turn it around, until about a year and a half after he was first arrested.

"I realized what I had done to my victims - to my family," he said. "I didn't want to hurt anybody anymore."

It started with welding training at Kenai’s


Soto Lopez said it was the hardest thing he had ever had to do until that point, but it made him realize he had a passion for welding. When he got out of prison, he didn’t want the months he spent working to go to waste.

He’s living in a halfway house now and has been going through the pre-apprenticeship program. He says the training he got, when he was behind bars, is what is keeping him from slipping back into the only other ways he knew how to get by.

"Just when I think about it, I can only imagine the worst case scenario," he said of getting out of jail without those new opportunities. "I have no skills. I have no training. People are not going to want to hire somebody like me with a past, a history, not only the crimes that I committed, but the attitudes that I had."

"I committed a crime," Soto Lopez said. "But that doesn’t mean that I have to continue to be a criminal."