ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico man sentenced to ten years in prison now owns and runs his own business. He’s sharing the story of how he turned his life around. 

Thomas Joseph Baca – also known as TJ – owns Sir Men’s Salon LLC in Albuquerque – but his road to success wasn’t always a smooth one. He grew up in California, but when he kept getting in trouble as a teen, his family moved to New Mexico. He explains, “My parents thought it was a good idea to bring me back to our natural roots, which is Albuquerque, where they’re from.”

But Baca kept breaking the law and paid the price for it. “Just really caught up with the wrong crowd being a part of the wrong crowd. That led me into a 10-year prison sentence.”

Baca doesn’t run from his past – he embraces it. “All of this is public record. I was charged with aggravated battery, armed robbery, and kidnapping. You know, I did some, some dealing of drugs out here, weed and everything. I went into the department of corrections and did 1,827 days of that – 10 years, which is, I believe, five years, eight months,” he said. 

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Baca’s time in prison was long and complicated, but at the end of his sentence, he spent a lot of time doing what he was good at – cutting hair. He shared, “They created a special job for me called staff barber that was outside of the prison in Santa Fe. 

Baca says when he got out of prison, he didn’t know how to start his career. “I knew that I was very good at cutting hair. I had no clue that that would be a profession or that was even worth any value of money.”

Someone told him about the state’s Department of Vocational Rehab – or DVR. It’s a state and federally-funded program to help people with disabilities find employment. 

Baca shares, “Coming out of prison is a disability whether you like to look at it that we’re not, and it’s not the end of the world. It’s actually the beginning of a fresh start. So with that being said, DVR if you came out of prison it’s a disability, you will qualify for DVR.”

A spokesperson for the program, Jeff Levine, explains, “Many people in the prison population have underlying disabilities (that they may not even know about, such as dyslexia, ADHD, or being on the autism spectrum), that would qualify them. We encourage those getting released to make an appointment at their nearest NMDVR office to determine whether we can help.”

Baca graduated from the program in 2020, which helped him go to school and get his barber’s license. “I saw what was around me. Prison actually honed my dedication even at a more superior level. So I just said, you know what, I’m going to open up a shop.”

Now, Baca runs a successful barber shop. But he’s doing more than just cutting hair. He’s encouraging others in trouble with the law to seek help from programs like DVR to find their own path to a better life. “I don’t want them to wash and waste their life away. I want them to understand that their life is worth more and that there’s more out there and that you yourself can be the best person you can be for yourself,” Baca said.

There are more than 20 DVR locations throughout the state. You can find more information on all locations online.