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February 24, 2014

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Boss gives ex-convicts a secure future

Gu A’xiao has been accused of links to organized crime many times in the past 11 years. His only “crime” is doing what most other businessmen scorn. He hires ex-convicts to give them a chance to return to a normal life in society.

Gu’s privately owned Shanghai Huigui Industrial Co Ltd recently was honored by the Shanghai Human Resources and Social Security Bureau as a “pioneer” company in creating job opportunities. It provides security guards and cleaning services to property managers.

Huigui means “return” in Chinese, and that sums up efforts by the city in recent years to promote employment for ex-cons. In an effort to reduce recidivism, the Shanghai Justice Bureau pays an annual 13,000 yuan (US$2,135) subsidy for every former prisoner a company hires. Despite that, most firms refuse to take the risk.

Gu sees it differently. He believes that an ex-con absorbed back into society can become a productive citizen.

“Having a steady job is the first step back to a normal life,” said the 54-year-old Gu.

In 2003, a restaurant Gu was operating was razed to make way for a property project in Xuhui District. The district government offered him 140,000 yuan to build a waste-recycling facility to employ those who have served time behind bars.

“I remember arguing with my wife over it,” Gu said. “No woman wants her husband to be associated with ex-convicts.”

But something about the project appealed to Gu’s humanitarian instincts. But his decision hasn’t been a cakewalk.


Gu said he has been reported many times to police and media by residents who suspected him of being a criminal.

“It felt really bad when people misunderstood me,” Gu said. “But I can understand that some people feel insecure about it.”

Worse, Gu’s investigations revealed the allegations were being made by some of his own employees who wanted to show off.

“It is a way of bluffing,” he said. “They wanted to show they are strong so that no one would dare bully them.”

He sat down with them and explained a few hard facts about life. They could never return to a normal life if they persisted in undermining the good he was trying to do, he told them.

Talking to his employees has been a key to Gu’s success. Once, a worker, who declined to be named, complained to Gu that the government had demolished his old house and he had received no compensation because he was in prison at the time. After his release, he had no home to return to.

Gu rented a room and bought daily necessities for the man, and then reported the case to the justice bureau, which later found him an apartment.

Apart from the minimum wage, Gu gives bonuses to encourage employees to do their best at work. The highest salary can be up to 4,000 yuan a month.

In the past 11 years, more than 500 released prisoners have worked in his company, and none committed crimes during employment, Gu said.

“I think I’m just lucky,” Gu said. “I believe that if you treat people with heart, they will repay you with good actions.”

When his recycling station closed Gu set his sights on property management. His company now provides security guards and sanitation workers to a company in Xuhui.

He employs about 50 people, all of them ex-cons, whose average age is 50. The longest sentence any of them has served is 35 years.

Ex-convict Cai Jinlin, 53, is now deputy general manager of Gu’s company. Cai used to pick fights and lost his left eye in one punch-up. Recently married, he’s a changed man now.

“I think this place provides a transition for people like me,” Cai said. “We can work like ordinary people and no one will look down on us.”

Gu said the property management company he supplies is satisfied with the work of his security guards.

Last year, they collected fees totaling 230,000 yuan, about 10 times more than former security guards.

“Many of them were jailed for theft, but the poacher has become the gamekeeper,” Gu said.



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