Lin Guohua shares his experience at a public event held in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. （Photo/China Daily）
After starting construction firm, he helps rebuild 500 broken lives
Lin Guohua's life story is a tale of redemption－not only for himself, but also for others.
In his youth, Lin was a thug known in his village in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, for fighting.
The 41-year-old said he beat up many of the villagers when he was young.
"They cursed me to death behind my back," he said.
He dropped out of school at 13. Unable to control him, his family sent him to sell cashmere garments with relatives in Lanzhou, Gansu province.
"My mother said if you must fight with others, just don't use knives," Lin said.
Two years later, he stabbed someone to death in a business quarrel. In 1999, after seven years in jail, he was released.
"It was winter, my parents came to collect me and I saw they were wearing thin clothes," Lin said. "When we got home, I realized my family had gone bankrupt."
They had used their savings to compensate the victim's family and sold their house to pay for a lawyer to save him from the death penalty.
"At that point, I started to feel pain in my heart," he said.
Unemployed, Lin was approached by some of the gangsters he used to hang out with.
"They offered me money and asked me to work for them," Lin said.
Lin refused. "This is not going to work. I need a proper job," he told them.
But a proper job was hard to find. More than 30 companies and factories turned Lin down.
No one wanted to hire someone who had just got out of prison.
Lin used his initiative and opened a bicycle repair stall. At first it was fine, but then some other former prisoners, who also could not find jobs, joined him, and the income from the stall was not enough to support them all.
An opportunity came when a customer told Lin that he had built a house but was unable find people to install windows.
"He asked me if I could do it, and I said yes," Lin said. "What work can't a man do when he has no other choice?"
Lin grabbed the chance and started to make aluminum alloy windows. Other deals followed and the business gradually started to succeed.
But it was not all plain sailing. In 2004, Lin was forced to close his workshop in his hometown on the grounds that it was considered illegal. Lin and his fellow workers suspected that the real reason was their criminal records.
Many of his employees suggest retaliation, but Lin disagreed and waited patiently for another opportunity. In 2006, Lin secured a big project with a pressing deadline that many other contractors had turned down.
Lin knew he could hire enough hands within a short period of time－he contacted a jail and was able to employ 40 newly released prisoners immediately. The project was delivered on time.
From then on, Lin realized that his real redemption had begun. He has hired former prisoners to work in his company every year.
He also visits prisons to share his experiences and donate money for those experiencing financial hardship.
"People who have been in jail often feel disconnected from society, despised and deserted by others," Lin said. "I know it because I have been there."
By offering them work, Lin said he hopes to offer them enough buffer time to adjust back into society. "To ensure they are able to hold up their heads and restart," he said. Cao Panwei, who is responsible for the re-entry program at the justice bureau in Leqing, Zhejiang province, said Lin has helped or hired about 500 former prisoners.