From Felon to Firefighter, T.J. O'Neill Takes Unlikely Journey

March 16, 2017
ABC 15 Reports on Ex-Felon Firefighter
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From felon to firefighter, T.J. O’Neill takes unlikely journey

(Anchor)  First on ABC15, he works 16 hours a day in brutal conditions to save our forests and our homes from savage wildfires, and he says it’s his way of giving back after receiving a second chance. ABC15’s Melissa Blasius shows us this firefighter’s amazing turnaround story:

T.J. O’Neill’s path to the fire line started with what seemed to be a dead end in life.

I was arrested in 2011 for transportation of dangerous drugs for sale,” says O’Neill.

And DUI. Sent to prison for five years, he applied for an inmate wild fire crew, figuring that braving flames must be better than staring at razor wire all day.

He had stumbled on his calling, and he says it transformed him.

“The challenge, not just physically, but mentally, pushing my body to the absolute limit and beyond for nothing other than because I want to protect something as beautiful as this,” says O’Neill.

These inmate fire crews are a shining example of how to rehabilitate prisoners and prevent recidivism, according to the governor’s office.

The governor’s budget proposal this year calls for millions of dollars in new spending to reduce prison recidivism, including a post-release fire crew.

“Whenever we can provide job training, access to an opportunity as someone’s being released from prison and increase their skills while they are serving their debt to society, I mean it’s something we want to be supportive of,” says Governor Doug Ducey. 

After his release, O’Neill was given a chance, a job with the Sonoita-Elgin Fire District, and now, two years later, he’s up for a job as the most elite kind of wildland firefighter – on a hotshot crew.

Anything’s possible when you get out. Don’t believe that all the doors are closed. But know that if an opportunity comes, that you need to cherish that opportunity,” says O’Neill.

In Prescott, Melissa Blasius, ABC15 Arizona.

Click the following link to view the original article at ABC15 Arizona: