Two men who were previously incarcerated in California were given the opportunity to obtain valuable on-hand job skills thanks to the Los Angeles Rams, Bank of America and two L.A.-based nonprofits.
Juan Camacho and Kenzo Sohoue participated in a six-month program with the Rams that provided them with paid onsite work experience in different departments across the organization.
The Rams Fellow Program gave both men the opportunity to learn from Rams staffers in football operations, partnership sales, marketing, community impact and the Rams Studio, which produces original content for the team.
Camacho and Sohoue were brought to the program by the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which aims to end mass incarceration in California, and The RightWay Foundation, which works with foster youth as they transition into adulthood.
Molly Higgins, vice president of community impact and engagement for the Rams, said the most recent graduates of the program were “outstanding additions” to the team last season.
Higgins described the two as “inspiring reminders that when we leverage our platform in creative ways, we can help change life trajectories.”
Camacho is originally from Long Beach and was incarcerated for more than a decade. He was separated from his mother at a young age and was put into the foster care system, where he was then separated from his siblings. He lived with more than 10 families during childhood, and eventually ended up behind bars. Upon his release, he began working with ARC.
Sohoue is originally from the African nation of Cameroon. He came to the United States with his mother, and the two battled homelessness and lived together in homeless shelters throughout his youth. His mother eventually abandoned him and he became incarcerated. Since being released, he’s worked with ARC to enroll in college classes and find hobbies that would translate into a successful career.
Their stories have been chronicled in a short film produced by Rams Studios entitled, “Redefined.“
“Even my own mama was pretty much pushing away from me and telling me that she had enough of me, and that broke me, and I didn’t know what to do,” Sohoue said in the eight-minute documentary. “After getting released from incarceration, I immediately reached out to the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. I got into college courses, I started working out. I started writing music as well.”
“I grew up loving sports, really liking sports, then to come to the sports world and realize that it’s not just about the score, touchdowns and stuff like that, that it’s bigger,” Camacho said. “It feels good when I’m out there in the community serving with the Rams and other partnerships, and just giving back and putting smiles on people’s faces and broken families out there as well.”
The program was created in partnership with the team and Bank of America and is designed to provide young adults from communities that lack traditional mentorship and workforce resources to earn critical job skills and get on the path to a successful career.
Bank of America helps pay for monthly stipends for those involved in the program, as well as the cost of corporate housing, subsidized transportation and financial education coaches for each person involved.
Scott Budnick is a film producer and the founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. He’s known Juan and Kenzo since they were teenagers while they were enrolled in a class he was teaching in juvenile hall. He said recidivism, the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend, is around 60% in California. That number is around 5% for former convicts involved in his organization.
“To see these guys actually be able to leave the concrete jungle of downtown L.A. and be living in suburbia in a nice place that they can call their own, to see the Instagram stories of them cooking in their own kitchen, or kicking their feet up and watching a movie, or hosting their family at Christmas in their place, and have that type of growth — seeing them grow professionally, seeing them grow as young men has been unbelievable,” said Budnick. “And no one, no sports team in this country that I know of, has ever done anything like this.”
The Rams organization says its devoted to inspiring change and providing access and opportunity to those who may be overlooked by society. The Rams Fellow Program is one of a handful of initiatives the team has deployed to “address issues of poverty that disproportionately impact communities of color including education inequities, housing and food insecurities, youth mentorship and community-police relations,” the team said.
Bank of America said the partnership in the program with the Rams does more than just open the door for disadvantaged people to find work.
“By connecting these talented young adults with mentors and a nonprofit partner that provides important wraparound services, they can more readily overcome barriers to success at work and in life,” said Raul A. Anaya, president of Bank of America Greater Los Angeles.
Higgins encourages everyone to watch the “Redefined” documentary on YouTube, saying that the powerful stories of those involved will hopefully encourage other organizations to provide formerly incarcerated individuals with a “second chance to redefine their future.”
“This was an opportunity and second chance to learn so much, experience so much, and [it was] so welcome,” Camacho said. “I found that family that I needed, that I always wanted my whole life. No matter your darkest days and how dark your life may seem, just don’t give up, fight it with help, just battle it out, and be strong and just try not to fight this battle alone.”