Goodwill San Antonio Re-Entry program provides hope and opportunity

Crystal Reyes - Goodwill San Antonio

After more than a decade away from the general population, Crystal Reyes could not bear the noise and crowds.

Her sister, Angelica, had picked her up from Bryan Federal Prison Camp, where Reyes had been sentenced to 20 years for distributing methamphetamines.

In prison, she never heard the roar of traffic nor felt shoppers jostle her as they passed.

Reyes’ eyes widened when her sister parked at a Buc-ee’s mega-convenience store near San Antonio. Cars were everywhere. Every imaginable product, from candy to jams and jellies, packed walls and aisles. Bright ceiling lights lit the store like an endless sunny day.

Struck by sensory overload, Reyes retreated into a restroom. Her sister had to walk her to the quiet of the car, where peace washed away her anxiety.

“I was kind of reborn into the world,” Reyes, 38, said.

Reyes grew up in a home broken by her parents’ divorce. By 9 years old, she was smoking marijuana. As a teen, she dropped out of school and started running the streets. At 17, Reyes was selling drugs. Then she started smuggling meth across the United States border. Reyes said her biggest drug was money.

The day her drug runs ended, she had an unexplainable eerie feeling before crossing from Piedras Negras, Mexico, to Eagle Pass. Customs officers detained Reyes in her blue Dodge truck hitched to a flatbed trailer. Officers searched the trailer’s tires and found bags of meth Reyes said she was unaware of. She was 22.

In court, her family watched as the judge sentenced her to 240 months in federal prison. Her sister gasped. Reyes asked her court-appointed lawyer what that equaled in years.

“Twenty years,” he replied.

Reyes served four years in county jails: two years in Val Verde and two years in Bexar County. When she entered prison, she was angry and upset about her childhood and the poor decisions she’d made.

A small, older woman called Miss Rose helped Reyes find faith. During visits to the Val Verde jail, the volunteer would bring Reyes from her cell and talk about finding the good within each human being. Miss Rose said Reyes had so much to give as she shared religious lessons.

One night, Reyes was alone in her room. She was tired of having a question mark over her head, not knowing what would happen to her life.

Reyes cried as she fell to the floor on her knees, shouting about her struggles. She realized she was baring her private feelings and thoughts to the higher power Ms. Rose always talked about.

“If you’re real,” Reyes said, “touch me.”

She recalled feeling a force press her shoulder, and her anxiety fell away.

“I wanted more of that,” Reyes said. “It was so comforting, and I haven’t let go of that peace.”

She learned more about herself through psychology classes. The classes made Reyes realize she wasn’t alone in her pain.

“I couldn’t keep blaming everyone for my mistakes,” Reyes said. “Prison saved me.”

After her release, she recalled her journey at the East Side Education and Training Center, where Reyes had three weeks of classroom training sponsored by Goodwill Industries of San Antonio’s Reentry Services. The second chance program links individuals, once incarcerated, with training that prepares them for the workforce.

While checking in at a local halfway house, counselors told her about Goodwill. In September 2022, Reyes started classes at the center near WW White Road, where instructors ran everything like a work site.

She learned to use power tools like a circular band saw, sander and drill. She studied and received her forklift, National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certifications. Reyes works at Avanzar in the foam department, which ensures the foam in chairs is production-ready for truck vendors.

Reyes said the senior manager of workforce programs, Cathy Dye, took a chance on her. There was a question about her possibly not meeting the time criteria.

“She was determined she was going to make it,” Dye said. “I have a job where I actually help people, and you can see the help. There are so many people in her same situation, and all they need is just a little bit of help, and they’re fine.”

Dye knows Reyes is committed to success. Her former student bought two cars — if one isn’t serviceable, the other ensures she’ll never be late for work. Reyes said Dye and the staff check on her to let her know she’s not forgotten.

“It gave me the confidence I needed,” Reyes said. “I didn’t feel judged.”

Kristen Veracruz, director of workforce programs, said the ability for individuals to earn a wage that allows them to sustain their lifestyle and meet their needs is what helps people from returning to prison.  

“It’s really important they do have training in other things that can help them get a job, and allows them to enter a career pathway,” Veracruz said.

These are the days when Reyes takes responsibility for her actions. She’s grown closer to her parents and siblings, who support her.

She’s a member of Shepherd Ministry Church, continuing her ministry of devotion. And she believes in karma — the concept that what you put into the world, good or bad, will come back to you.

“A blessing is for a blessing,” Reyes said. “A curse is for a curse.”

Originally published May 20, 2024 - San Antonio Express-News