When a caterpillar enters its chrysalis stage, it begins to transform from an immature, inactive larva into a beaming butterfly. Myron Tobin, a 57-year-old South Central native, entered his chrysalis stage in 2013 when he was released from prison after 33 years.
Tobin recalls experiencing Los Angeles, and all of society, for the first time in over three decades. “I was scared. I came out and I had to make a lot of decisions and choices; I had to go through scratches, through trial and error. It was overwhelming. I learned to ask for help.”
With the support of his parole officers, counselors, psychologists and CLARE — an organization that prevents addiction through low-cost treatment and sober living — Tobin was able to break out of his protective shell.
Though Tobin is grateful for the guidance he received from all these individuals, he owes everything that he is today to Chrysalis. Chrysalis, with its three offices located in downtown (Skid Row), Santa Monica and the San Fernando Valley, is a nonprofit that creates a pathway to self-sufficiency for homeless, low-income individuals and the formerly incarcerated by preparing, finding and retaining employment for its clients.
According to its president-CEO Mark Loranger, Chrysalis’ success is measured in two ways: the number of people who get a job, and the number of people who have kept the job for at least half a year. “Based on the data we collect, over 70 percent of our clients are still working at the six-month mark,” Loranger says.
Tobin is one of thousands of clients who have found success through Chrysalis. This year, his story was so powerful and so exemplary that Tobin was presented with the 2018 John Dillon Award at Chrysalis' 17th annual, celebrity-studded Butterfly Ball. Named for Chrysalis' founder, the award "celebrates the journey and accomplishments of a client who overcame their barriers and obtained employment. This individual represents over 2,300 clients who, with the help of Chrysalis, will realize their dream," the organization's website says.
“I was in shock — a wide range of emotions. It was like I had a dream, and it came true,” Tobin reminisces.
“Everybody has been so wonderful to me. I feel like a movie star. Coming from where I come from, just to be in front of an A-list crowd, I was scared; I was excited.”
When Tobin was 19 years old, he was arrested on numerous counts and eventually received a life sentence. Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, when gangs actively began taking up a prominent space in South L.A., Tobin was just a little kid trying to wrap his head around this. He was used to his neighborhood being more of a family-friendly atmosphere where he felt protected. Though gangs had always existed, they were “in the cuts, in the corners where you couldn’t see them,” he says.
By the time he was 13 years old, Tobin felt alone. “My sister was older than me and working, my brother was a Marine, so I went to junior high by myself. I didn’t have my safety net anymore. It felt like abandonment because yesterday I had my family and friends with me, today I have nothing,” Tobin recalls.
He remembers wanting to talk to his father about this but never summoning enough courage to do so. As Tobin describes the emotions inside his 13-year-old self, his voice begins to softly quiver, and he pauses: “As a kid, you feel like they don’t understand you. They taught you to be a man and stand up for yourself. But, you’re out here and you’re really scared, and you don’t want to tell anybody you’re scared.”
To eliminate the fear, Tobin joined one of the street gangs, and when he did, he felt accepted. More important, he felt in control.
Tobin now recognizes that he began suffering from a gang mentality, which he describes as living up to an image of “a destructive, evil human being, and the more you build up this image, the more you start to hate yourself because you see that you’re not this person.”
He used drugs and alcohol to take his mind off having to wake up every morning and becoming this monster.
This monster eventually landed him in prison. “The only thing that really changed was the location,” Tobin says. “Everybody that I didn’t see on the streets, this is where they were.”
This made life in prison very challenging. Violence, fear, riots, stabbing, deaths — this was his new reality. He remembers waking up every morning and thinking, “Is today my day to die?”
It wasn’t until the late ’90s, when his favorite aunt and father died and when the parole board made him feel like a worthless human being, that he realized he didn’t want to die in prison.
Tobin began isolating himself from the structured gang elements in prison. He earned his high school diploma; attended Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Gang Anonymous meetings; followed prison protocol; listened to his counselors; made new friends; and reconnected with his family.
“I told myself, ‘I’m going home.’ I knew I had to change everything about me,” Tobin says. “I made sacrifices for these people all my life — when am I going to stop? It was time to stop. It wasn’t worth it.”
It took Tobin 15 years to accomplish his goal of getting out, but he did, and a year later, he found Chrysalis.
The nonprofit gave Tobin all the resources he needed to transition back into society after being away for so long: clothes, books, employment specialists. It taught him how to use computers and create a résumé, conducted mock interviews, and placed him in one of the three transitional jobs it offers in order to establish his work history.
“Chrysalis gives you a second chance, builds your self-esteem, your self-worth, your value. I had a criminal background and no job experience,” Tobin says, “Everything they taught me worked. I started believing in the process.”
Tobin was able to land a job as a laundry attendant at the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica four years ago and is training for a new position there. In the future, he says, he wants to obtain a college degree, get married to his girlfriend, have four children, take care of his family, win the lotto, be Donald Trump rich, build his credit line and own a business (and hire through Chrysalis!).
“I can think about the future now. I can make plans. Everything,” Tobin declares.
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To have more success stories like Tobin’s, “We need to say yes to creating pathways of opportunity for men and women that may have some blemishes on their record,” Chrysalis' Loranger says. “We need to help our fellow Angelenos, regardless of their background or their life positions.”
Chrysalis is always looking for community members to donate business-appropriate clothing and shoes, and for volunteers to help teach some of its classes. Loranger hopes that volunteers will learn about the work Chrysalis does and advocate for it.
With the ever-growing city of Los Angeles and the misconceptions around the homeless, the unemployed and the formerly incarcerated, Chrysalis’ work is necessary now more than ever. “We’re looking at getting people out of poverty — long-term — and allowing them to thrive. A job is a big piece of that,” Loranger says.
And thrive is what Tobin has done. He spread his wings and took flight.