Ex-con 24 hour wristbands kooziesgives others a shot at redemption

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After starting construction firm, he helps rebuild 500 broken lives

 

Lin Guohua shares his experience at a public event held in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. [Photo/China Daily]

Lin Guohua"s life story is a tale of redemption-not only for himself, but also for others.

In his youth, Lin was a thug known in his village in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, for fighting.

The 41-year-old said he beat up many of the villagers when he was young.

"They cursed me to death behind my back," he said.

He dropped out of school at 13. Unable to control him, his family sent him to sell cashmere garments with relatives in Lanzhou, Gansu province.

"My mother said if you must fight with others, just don"t use knives," Lin said.

Two years later, he stabbed someone to death in a business quarrel. In 1999, after seven years in jail, he was released.

"It was winter, my parents came to collect me and I saw they were wearing thin clothes," Lin said. "When we got home, I realized my family had gone bankrupt."

They had used their savings to compensate the victim"s family and sold their house to pay for a lawyer to save him from the death penalty.

"At that point, I started to feel pain in my heart," he said.

Unemployed, Lin was approached by some of the gangsters he used to hang out with.

"They offered me money and asked me to work for them," Lin said.

Lin refused. "This is not going to work. I need a proper job," he told them.

But a proper job was hard to find. More than 30 companies and factories turned Lin down.

No one wanted to hire someone who had just got out of prison.

Lin used his initiative and opened a bicycle repair stall. At first it was fine, but then some other former prisoners, who also could not find jobs, joined him, and the income from the stall was not enough to support them all.

An opportunity came when a customer told Lin that he had built a house but was unable find people to install windows.

"He asked me if I could do it, and I said yes," Lin said. "What work can"t a man do when he has no other choice?"

Lin grabbed the chance and started to make aluminum alloy windows. Other deals followed and the business gradually started to succeed.

But it was not all plain sailing. In 2004, Lin was forced to close his workshop in his hometown on the grounds that it was considered illegal. Lin and his fellow workers suspected that the real reason was their criminal records.

Many of his employees suggest retaliation, but Lin disagreed and waited patiently for another opportunity. In 2006, Lin secured a big project with a pressing deadline that many other contractors had turned down.

Lin knew he could hire enough hands within a short period of time-he contacted a jail and was able to employ 40 newly released prisoners immediately. The project was delivered on time.

From then on, Lin realized that his real redemption had begun. He has hired former prisoners to work in his company every year.

He also visits prisons to share his experiences and donate money for those experiencing financial hardship.

"People who have been in jail often feel disconnected from society, despised and deserted by others," Lin said. "I know it because I have been there."

By offering them work, Lin said he hopes to offer them enough buffer time to adjust back into society. "To ensure they are able to hold up their heads and restart," he said. Cao Panwei, who is responsible for the re-entry program at the justice bureau in Leqing, Zhejiang province, said Lin has helped or hired about 500 former prisoners.

"He offered jobs to those who wanted to work, and loaned money to those who wanted to start a business," Cao told the Wenzhou Evening News.

In 2012, when the country"s economic growth started to slow, Lin"s business also faltered. To make things worse, his funding dried up after the banks received letters saying his company"s employees were all criminals.

He managed to stay afloat by selling some shares to pay off his debts and encouraging some of his employees to start their own business.

Lin"s company now employs more than 100 people, of whom about 90 were once inmates mostly convicted of violent crimes. Managing them is far from easy, but experience helps. Lin has come up with a set of rules to prevent fights and to help them adapt.

In Lin"s factory, everyone is known by their nickname, not their full name, as they were in jail. They are not allowed to talk about their past, either.

"Bragging often occurs and then fighting follows," Lin said. "But they are fined 5,000 yuan ($778) if they fight and the money is used to treat them all to a meal." Besides helping released prisoners, Lin has also tried to mend his relationship with his fellow villagers.

"When I first returned to the village, people rolled their eyes at me to show their annoyance," Lin said. "I told myself if I become rich, I will buy a Mercedes, park it in front of the village and smash it up. Then no one will dare to look down on me."

But when Lin got rich years later, he ate his words. "Why not use the money to do something meaningful?" he said.

In 2005, he gave every elderly villager a red envelope with 300 yuan on the Double Ninth Festival, a traditional Chinese festival honoring seniors. The next year, he threw a big feast for them. Lin also donates money to a care home, said 71-year-old Cui Ajie of the elderly association in Wujiaqiao village.

"When my fellow villagers encounter any difficulties, I am always ready to help," Lin said. "Doing good deeds makes me sleep soundly and eat well."