Last fall, John Trahan heard fellow inmates talking about criminal justice reform but didn't pay much attention. His job working in construction for Collis Temple Contractors through the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office's work-release program kept him busy, and he knew his freedom date was coming up the following year.

But one October night, he gave in to the growing excitement and asked a corrections officer to check his release date.

"And my date changed," the 53-year-old said, grinning. "I just fell to my knees and looked up in the air and said, 'God, thank you! Thank you! Only you can do it!' "

He laughed, imagining how everyone around him must have thought he was crazy.

"It was a blessing from the Lord," Trahan said. "I kept praying that they'd let me get out to see my family again."

Trahan, 53, was convicted in 2010 of possession with intent to distribute cocaine in Lafayette and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He had already completed separate five- and 18-month sentences for drug possession convictions. Before his recalculated release date, he was scheduled to get out Aug. 3, according to Department of Corrections records.

Trahan was one of the relatively small number of inmates freed Nov. 1 who had been in a work-release program, which allows prisoners to work during the day at traditional jobs alongside free employees while remaining in custody, returning to a secure facility at night. The concept is to ease the transition from incarceration to freedom, with the opportunity to build up greater savings and to be hired full time.

Though his family is in Lafayette, Trahan decided he wanted to start fresh once released. So he continued with the opportunity his boss, Collis Temple Jr., was offering him: a full-time job, a company vehicle and an apartment nearby to rent. Temple said it is Trahan's work ethic that has impressed him, and it helps that he's a skilled mechanic, cement finisher and heavy-equipment operator.

"He came out on our job, and he was such an industrious guy, such a positive guy," Temple said. "He was willing to throw himself into any job we asked him to undertake, and he just had a real personable and positive attitude."

So while Trahan still visits his family and spent Christmas with them in Lafayette, he otherwise created a new life in the Capital City. He works six days a week, he said, but by Thursdays is already looking forward to church on Sundays. He has joined Mount Zion Baptist Church.

"Going back home brings back memories, so I just stay out here and do the right thing, and that's what I've been doing," Trahan said. "All I do is work, go to church, and that's it. I got on the right path, and I'm doing good, and I'm proud, and I like my work, I like what I do, and everything is in order."

When Trahan tells his story, it's intimately intertwined with his belief in God. After serving his first few months at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, he said, he was baptized and turned his life over to the Lord.

He said he stopped cursing, drinking coffee and smoking — all habits he'd succumbed to most of his life — after praying for strength.

"The only one I could depend on was the high powers of Jesus Christ," Trahan said. "I thank God for everything."

After work on Jan. 27, Trahan changed out of his typical, well-worn work clothes into a black button-down shirt and dress pants to attend the Mount Zion church's 160th anniversary celebratory gala with his girlfriend. He said he was nervous to be around so many people but excited to be a part of the church.

When he ran into Temple at the event, Trahan said, he was so cleaned up that his boss barely recognized him.

Temple, who's been a member of Mount Zion Baptist Church for decades, said he's proud to see Trahan a part of that community, continuing on a positive path.

“He is a model citizen," Temple said. "The reality is that people like John who’ve made mistakes, it's important and imperative that we give them a holistic opportunity to come back to society and live like normal, regular folks. If we don’t do that, we’re not really giving folks a second shot at life which they deserve."


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Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e. | (504) 636-7432