With the 2023 NFL Draft and the bulk of free agency in the books, football players across the country are looking forward to fresh starts in the coming season.
After making his own fresh start, and having gotten a taste of what it's like to work with a pro football team, Kenzo Sohoue is hopeful he might someday also have a job in the NFL -- landing that kind of gig would be, as he put it, "gold."
It was not so easy for Sohoue to visualize his goals when he was experiencing incarceration as a young person.
"I didn't know where my life was going to be," Sohoue said. "I didn't know what I was looking at. I could have been either in jail for the rest of my life or dead. I knew that I had to push myself."
He almost certainly wouldn't have predicted that he'd one day help the Los Angeles Rams prepare for a home game at SoFi Stadium, one of many experiences Sohoue had while participating in a paid six-month fellowship program with the team.
The Rams Fellows Program was created by the Rams, Bank of America and two Los Angeles-based nonprofit organizations, The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) and The RightWay Foundation, in an effort to "support young adults from under-resourced communities by providing access to mentorship and workforce experience to develop critical job skills, a professional network and career pathways," according to the team. Candidates who are accepted receive onsite working experiences, a furnished apartment and other types of support.
"Your current circumstance does not define who you are and what you can become." -- Kenzo Sohoue
Life after incarceration can come with many challenges, including difficulties finding employment. According to a report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2021 examining prisoners released in 24 states in 2008, about 66 percent were arrested within three years, and about 61 percent returned to prison within 10 years.
After Sohoue's incarceration, which occurred during a time of instability following a move from Cameroon to the United States at 10 years old, he worked with ARC to enroll in college courses. Through ARC -- one of the organizations the Rams support in pursuit of social justice -- Sohoue met Rams VP of Community Impact and Engagement Molly Higgins.
"He just had such a zest for life," Higgins said. "He was wise beyond his years. I think you'll find that a lot of times when you're dealing with young people who have been through adversity, they're so resilient, they're so resourceful, they're so appreciative of every opportunity that's put in front of them. Because they know that that's not a guarantee."
Later, Sohoue was selected for the fellowship program, which lasted through February of this year. The fellowship included time working in football operations, partnership sales, partnership marketing, community impact and Rams Studios; Sohoue said he also had a chance to interact with some of the Rams players.
"It has given me a real vision, a real perspective, and an understanding of a football team, the family that is behind this team," he said. "To see the different aspects within a football team shows how far we all can go as one."
"The Rams put me in so many departments," he added. "They believed in me and pushed me to fulfill multiple different things. What I'm taking from this opportunity is I have to reach my full potential, because I know that many people around me believe in me."
Reflecting on the fellowship and what it provided him, Sohoue said he believes it's important to give these kinds of opportunities to everyone, regardless of their background.
"It can give them a spark to a vision of a lifestyle they never thought they could accomplish," he said. "Your current circumstance does not define who you are and what you can become."
"They're not bad human beings, they just faced really tough circumstances," said Higgins. "Hopefully, it's a little bit of a public service announcement to a degree of the complex issues that can lead to incarceration. It's a situation where they can redefine their future, they just need an opportunity."
Sohoue "has us for life," Higgins said. "He can tap into our network, and, you know, we're always going to be there to support him."
Sohoue's future is coming into focus. He works part-time with ARC and with Jail Guitar Doors, which provides musical instruments to incarcerated people -- and he's maintaining that goal of securing a full-time position with a football team.
"My vision now is very much clearer, but it's growing," he said. "Now I have the tools and assets that I need."