After Substance Abuse and Incarceration, HVAC Helps a Student Move Forward

Joseph turned his life in a new direction and went from former inmate to class Valedictorian at UEI College in Mesa

After years of substance abuse, going to prison gave Joseph Jimenez a chance to get clean and after serving his sentence, UEI College in Mesa gave him a chance to move forward with his life.

“There are only so many roads you can go down with substance abuse,” Joseph said. “You’ll either die, be messed up on drugs, or go to prison. I’m glad the prison route hit me, and it actually improved me.”

Joseph spent three years in prison, getting clean from the addiction he had been dealing with since he was 18 and working on himself. After his release he felt like he needed to do something with his life, but with his record, it was a challenge. 

Three months later, while he was still adjusting to normal life, his father passed away from diabetes. His grief at the loss propelled him to make serious changes and he discovered UEI College.

Joseph had studied electrical work in prison, but he wasn’t certified, and he wasn’t interested in starting that program from the beginning. He decided to learn a new trade that would also benefit his future, Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC). He knew the key to doing well in the future would be to stay busy.

“I have substance abuse issues and I have a form of ADHD. I just have to constantly keep my mind busy,” he said. “I can’t stay still. Once I stay still, I lose interest. If something becomes boring, I’m out.”

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With HVAC, Joseph found a career that could keep his interest. His training in electrical made the curriculum feel natural.

“It’s something I know but I don’t know,” he said. “There are those learning moments. I still have so much room to learn particular points. There are multiple things that can be wrong. It’s not a one and done. I can keep playing the game and keep my mind going. I’m always learning something new and always trying to figure it out.”

From the beginning Joseph was able to achieve high grades in the program. That continued for every module, earning him a perfect 4.0 GPA.

“He’s a very good student,” said Jason Mayes, Joseph’s instructor. “He is quick to ask questions. He is diligent. He stays on top of his assignments and is actively doing things in labs. He’s got a purpose and he knows it. He’s got priorities and he is focused in. He’s one of the best students in the class that I’ve had so far.”

At the UEI Mesa graduation ceremony in October, Joseph was named the valedictorian and asked to deliver a speech to his classmates. He shared with them the story of his past. Being home from prison for just 13 months and being four years sober, he was able to graduate his program and begin a new career that he is excited about.

“No matter what you’ve been through, there is always room for improvement and change, you just have to be willing to get outside your comfort zone,” he said.

Joseph is still completing the last few weeks of his program and he looks forward to entering the job market soon.

“I have doors opening up for me in my field of study, which I’m really grateful for due to my background,” he said. “I’m still trying to climb up the ladder and it’s a struggle, but it’s been a good improvement.”

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