By Johnny Magdaleno.
Alfonza Merritt always wanted to work with his hands. Whether it was fixing helicopter blades in the U.S. Navy, or stitching furniture at the upholstery factory in San Quentin prison where he served 20 years, he’s always found fulfillment in using his strength and attentiveness to create things with great utility.
When he finally finished up his sentence for a second-degree homicide charge in November 2015, he relocated to San Francisco, determined to craft a new life far away from his hometown, Gary, Indiana, and its abundance of “crime, gangs and drugs,” says Merritt.
He arrived in the city with a wealth of drive, but nowhere to direct it. “A person like myself, who didn’t have any resources, would probably end up working fast food or some dead end job,” says Merritt. “I didn’t want anybody to give me handouts. I’m an able-bodied person. I should be able to work.”
Shortly after he secured an apartment, a friend he made in his building told him about a program called CityBuild, a city-managed construction jobs course designed specifically for San Francisco residents with criminal histories and other barriers to employment. That friend’s suggestion, says Merritt, brought the 43-year-old the drastic life change he’d wanted since his late teens, but was never able to afford.