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From 20 years in California prison to success as an optician, one man hopes to inspire more paths to redemption

From California prison to optician, man hopes to inspire more paths to redemption
From California prison to optician, man hopes to inspire more paths to redemption 02:31

VACAVILLE -- The California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) on Wednesday launched a new program at Solano State Prison that, for the first time, allows inmates to apply for and secure jobs months before their release.

It's something CALPIA leaders call a "game changer" when it comes to building pathways for a seamless transition from prison back into society and the workplace.

Robert Castaneda, who was incarcerated at Solano State Prison for 20 years, said this program would have made his transition to a successful life beyond prison walls much easier. He was behind bars from the age of 16 to 36. 

"I was a bit clueless, but I did have a mindset I would make it," Castaneda said.

As CALPIA held an event kicking off its new Entry to Employment program, Castaneda attended to share his own story.

"Getting out, I just didn't know where to start. My family told me, 'Get a job.' That's easy to say but how do you do that when you've never done that before?" Castaneda said.

Castaneda was able to beat the odds on his journey to rehabilitation. He has been out of prison for several years now and is a homeowner as well as a licensed optician for one of the largest eyewear companies in the country.

He learned everything he knows about glasses inside Solano State Prison's optical lab.

Following Wednesday's CALPIA announcement, Castaneda got to go back to where he first saw the vision for his new life.

"How you guys doing brothers?" Castaneda said to a group of current CALPIA program participants. "I did 20 years in here man. I got my certification here. I'm back, spreading the good news, you know? Now I'm in the optical industry. Just stay focused man."

Castaneda hopes his story inspires other inmates and gives them hope.

"I have had so much success. I get to spread that good energy to people and let people know it is possible that they can do it. I was once here, so it can happen," Castaneda said.

Castaneda didn't get to reap the benefits of the new Entry to Employment network but is excited that those incarcerated now have a better chance at a bright future.

Soon-to-be-released inmate Fausto Basso hopes to become the next story of success.

"The job search is fantastic. It's endless opportunity for people like me," Basso said.

Enrolled in the pilot Entry to Employment program, he's already applied for eight jobs. He will be out of jail in just under 70 days.

"This reduces my anxiety to where I know I am going to get job offers and get work when I get out," Basso said.

The program is helping those incarcerated go from being locked up to looking up.

"There's hope, guys. You know?" Castaneda said to people currently incarcerated.

He hopes they will see his story of redemption and then write their own.

The Entry to Employment program was piloted at Solano State Prison this year and is now at four state prisons, including San Quentin. CALPIA hopes to have it up and running at every prison in California by next year.

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