Success Stories
Parole Project client and Academy Painting crew foreman Emerson Simmons on a job site.


Emerson Simmons has been hard at work painting a new future for himself. After Parole Project successfully advocated for his parole, Emerson, who went to prison at age 17, was released in July 2020 after 25 years. He is currently a crew foreman with Academy Painting, one of the largest painting companies in the Baton Rouge area. Daily, Simmons picks up his paintbrush, roller, and sprayer and makes his mark on buildings both commercial and residential. He has a newfound purpose in his life and his vision of the future becomes clearer to him with every stroke of the brush. “I got out of prison just a couple of weeks before turning 43,” he said. “So I want to work as much as I can for the next 20 years or so to set myself up for retirement. While I’m healthy, I want to be able to stack up for the future.”

“I want to work as much as I can for the next 20 years or so to set myself up for retirement.”

During his time in prison Simmons was not afraid to get involved and lead others. As a juvenile lifer, one of the first things he did was earn his GED. He was a dedicated member of Alcoholics Anonymous for over two decades, served as the president of the Angola Rodeo Committee, and was just a few hours short of completing his bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary before COVID-19 forced a suspension of classes. He also completed the Marian Catechist Apostolate’s Catholic Catechism courses. Emerson, who says the best thing about being free is being able to spend time with his family, is still driven to achieve and he is now making an impact in his community and extending a hand to others.

His deep drive to both succeed and give back keeps his days and evenings full. Emerson is currently studying to take the exam to become a licensed contractor. He hopes to one day start his own painting company while simultaneously helping to improve the lives of other formerly incarcerated people. “Ultimately, I want to start a company and staff it solely with guys who have turned their life around and are getting out of prison and need a job. I want to be able to offer job training, wages that pay well so they don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck,” he said, alluding to the biases in employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated people and the difficulties they have finding living wage jobs.

The best thing about being free is being able to spend time with my family.

Now, working for Academy Painting, Simmons has the opportunity to reward the best workers on his crew. “I start the guys working with me at $13 an hour,” he said. As they improve and demonstrate proficiency with various painting techniques, he happily bumps up their pay. “I love that I can provide for myself and help others at the same time. I’ve hired two guys that were in prison with me. They are awesome employees.”

Grateful for Parole Project’s investment in his reentry, Emerson acknowledged how daunting the fast paced world outside of prison felt at first and how the reintegration program helped him ease back into the flow of life. He also believes it is valuable for those newly released after serving long sentences to see people who made the same journey and are now thriving in the community. “I would repeat this in front of anybody. I probably wouldn’t be as successful at this moment had it not been for Parole Project. It’s a program that really needs to exist.”

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