Chris Nelson is a father, a grandfather and a technician at an automotive dealership in Bel Air, MD, and after a long day of work, he is happy to go home and be in the house. This wasn’t always what the now 39-year-old Nelson was happy to do. In fact, he says he was always running and often getting involved in things he should not have, which led to him spending 18 of his 39 years in prison.
Nelson grew up in a two parent home. He says he knew he was different because he could always afford the things that his friends wanted. If there was a new pair of Jordans to be had; he had them. Nonetheless, he always recognized that it was his father’s hard work that got him these things—he wanted to be able to do it for himself. According to Nelson, his friends often chose to do the wrong things in order to get what they wanted because they felt they had no other option. He admits that he did the wrong things because he chose to.
Nelson was a student in Patrick Engram’s class at Occupational Skills Training Center (OSTC), an automotive training program in prison. He has high regard for his former instructor, Patrick Engram, saying that one of the things that Engram told his students when they asked a question about a car was, “That’s a good question. Let me know when you figure it out.”
At first, he admits that it was frustrating, but when Nelson took the challenge, he, in fact began to figure it out. He credits his formerinstructor for giving him that mindset to be able to take on the challenges he would face when entering into the program at Vehicles for Change. At VFC, he would meet his new ASE instructor, Wayne Farrar, who echoed Engram, saying, “That’s what being a technician is—figuring it out.” Farrar often stressed the difference between a technician and a parts replacer.
In February of 2017, Nelson became part of the Vehicles for Change (VFC) reentry program at Full Circle Service Center. A work release intern, Chris says, “I just got tired…trouble is not hard to get into but it’s hard to get out of.” During his last incarceration of six years, Nelson had a real change of heart, “I was always preparing for when I came out,” he said. With VFC, Nelson knew that when he came home he had a chance.
Nelson learned a lot working on donated cars at Vehicles for Change and the customer cars at Full Circle. He values both his classroom instruction and his hands-on instruction. Even as a graduate, he now dedicates his day off on Mondays to the program. “This is home. This is always going to be home…these are my guys!” he says emphatically. Understanding that his current co-workers don’t have that same bridge to cross when it comes to prison reentry, he says it’s important to him that he shows the interns that the opportunity is available if they put their work in. Another reason why Nelson likes to volunteer on Mondays is because he likes to limit his free time. He feels strongly that he’s just one bad decision away from being like a lot of the other people he has seen falter.
“People helped me,” Nelson remarked. He remembers an intern, named Anthony Watkins, who was on his way out as he was coming into the program. Nelson treasures the fact that Watkins always came back to share his success, offer encouraging words and even some technical advice. Now Nelson says “I like my life and this is the easiest it’s ever been.” As a kid, he remembers seeing his father come home from work and sitting down in front of the television and then going to sleep when he was ready. Now he does the same thing and he can connect to his father’s hard work ethic. He is enjoying having the respect of his family as he proves that he, too, is a good provider.