Success Stories

Damian

Growing up in New Orleans, the chaotic crescendos of jazz pianos and brass instruments make up life’s background music. For 23-year-old Damian Bode, his life echoed the erratic tune of competing composers when he was arrested and given a 40-year sentence for armed robbery in 2001. But after more than two decades, he received a second chance and his soundtrack is now a perfect harmony.

Now 46, Damian is an automotive technician at the Mercedes-Benz Van Center in New Orleans. He’s been working there for about a year, landing the job about two months after his release. Damian believes he wouldn’t have this career if it weren’t for the opportunities he was given while in prison. “It still sounds funny coming out of my mouth,” he said. “That was a major turning point in my incarceration — finding gratitude for the opportunities they did have. I took advantage of them and it paid off big time.”

The Mercedes-Benz garage buzzes with an orchestrated symphony of mechanical melody. Revving engines, echoing clangs, and the rhythmic thud of tools meeting their targets fill the air. Whirring electric drills harmonize with the screech of lug nuts being tightened, while the occasional hiss of air compressors add to the percussive beat. This is where Damian shines — playing his own instruments and creating a vehicular vibrato.

“I didn’t want to work on vehicles,” Damian said with a chuckle. “If I would have wished for a career before I got out of prison, I wouldn’t have aimed this high.”

Damian’s interest in automotive technology began in 2005. He began building relationships with peers who were in the automotive school at Angola and they pushed him to join. “I applied myself a little bit at that time,” he said. But it was the guidance of his mentors who helped him see how beneficial his efforts could be. “You don’t have a life sentence,” they told him. Eventually you’re going to get out.” Damian took the advice to heart and recognized that his time could either be an asset or a liability. “I had locker boxes full of books and I would read and read and read,” he said. “Even when I was not on the right path, I would still educate myself.”

After graduating with certifications from the automotive school, Damian became interested in electrical work and gained both residential and commercial certifications through programs at Angola. He later explored diesel mechanics while working at Prison Enterprises and spent the last five years of his incarceration servicing generators throughout Angola.

When Damian was released last year, on his birthday, he was eager to start applying his skills to rebuild his life. “I was ready to go out the gate,” he said, “but Parole Project gave me a chance to slow down and catch my breath. I didn’t realize how much I needed that.” Like an engine repair, it gave him a chance to break his transition apart into individual components, inspect and work on them, then put it all together to run smoothly. He got to “test drive” while completing the reentry programming and was fully road ready soon after.

Despite knowing the value of his skill set, Damian was still surprised at the number of doors it would open for him. He received offers from several major companies in New Orleans, many of which were competitive in the hiring process. “It got to the point where they were bidding on me,” Damian said. “But I had to make a decision and get a job. I couldn’t be a professional interviewer.”

While driving down Poydras Street on his way to a second interview with an industrial generator company, Damian decided to stop at the Mercedes-Benz Van Center and introduce himself. “I got straight to the point,” he said. “I told them who was interested in me and what their offers were and they were very interested.”

After an initial interview, Damian’s application drew the attention of a regional supervisor due to his incarceration. “They had never hired anyone who had been in prison … I went in there with my parole packet and a resume,” he said. “They offered me a great career and I took it.”

Beyond the professional success he has achieved, Damian has used his second chance to impact the lives of his family. He lives with his father and grandmother in New Orleans, savoring every moment with them — an opportunity he never thought he’d get. “In my mind, the last time I saw my grandmother at Angola was the last time I’d see her alive,” he said. “She raised me. When I went in, [my family] were the only ones who stuck by me and that protected me in a sense.”

He is also reaching back to give others similar opportunities. He made a strong connection with several employers when he interviewed with them and has started connecting them with some of the men who were in automotive technology school with him at Angola. “I know they’re hard workers and I know what employers are looking for,” he said. “I don’t want [others coming home] to waste their skills.”

Damian is adamant about using his second chance to give back in any form. His opportunities were not guaranteed and were the result of others taking a chance on him. He is dedicated to opening doors for others, creating opportunities, and make second chances meaningful.

“It’s fulfilling. I’m going to keep what I’ve got,” he said, “by giving it away.”

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