Yeshua’s Second Chance fights for a second chance

Fire-truck-manufactured-by-Gwendolyn-Watkins-company-for-Oakland-FD-1-1400x836, Yeshua’s Second Chance fights for a second chance, Local News & Views
Gwendolyn Watkins opens the driver’s door as she inspects one of the many fire trucks she manufactured, this one for the Oakland Fire Department. The trucks were built by formerly incarcerated people she worked with through her nonprofit Yeshua’s Second Chance Foundation, a program she wants to resume.

by Kia Shaun Walton

Gwendolyn Watkins, founder and CEO, fights to secure funding for Yeshua’s Second Chance Foundation (YSCF), a nonprofit that supported incarcerated individuals to secure job training and a stable income after re-entry into the general public. These trainees received on-the-job training for gainful employment at Watkins’ fire truck manufacturing company. The foundation, which began in 1980, has helped hundreds of formerly incarcerated people, according to Watkins. YSCF is rooted in her spirituality, and she ardently shares, “Jesus is the CEO.”

Beginning what would become a lifelong career working with incarcerated people, Watkins first began visiting prisons at the age of 13 with her minister. At the age of 79, Watkins is still working with incarcerated individuals, supporting them with appeals and committing to public speaking engagements inside prisons. While Watkins does not charge for her services, she asserts, “Jesus pays me.” The cost of running a foundation requires capital, and plenty of it. 

Yeshuas-Second-Chance-Foundation-founder-and-CEO-Gwendolyn-Watkins, Yeshua’s Second Chance fights for a second chance, Local News & Views
Yeshua’s Second Chance Foundation founder and CEO Gwendolyn Watkins, age 79, at Kinfolx in Oakland, one of the many Bay Area cities that used the fire trucks she manufactured.

At its inception, YSCF was financially supported by Watkin’s history-making fire truck manufacturing company, Gregory Body and Fire Apparatus. Watkins and her late husband, Jesse Jones, bought the company from a previous owner and maintained the name. The multi-million-dollar company was the first of its kind, namely because a Black woman was at the helm. Identifying as a “triple minority,” as a Black and Cherokee woman, the novelty of her identities as the CEO of a fire truck manufacturing company in an industry historically dominated by white men brought much racist and sexist attention to the thriving entrepreneur.

However, it was the company’s unique mission to financially underwrite Yeshua’s Second Chance Foundation, which served incarcerated people in California’s longest standing prison, San Quentin, that made news locally in the Bay Area, all the way to the Oval Office, where Watkins met President Bill Clinton. In a binder, Watkins keeps her correspondence, awards, commendations, articles and even a book in which her work was included. Flipping through the pristine pages, Watkins guides a tour through time, explaining, “You’re going to see letters from Congress. You’re going to see Nancy Pelosi. You’re going to see Dianne Feinstein.”

In the mid-1990s, Watkins experienced devastating financial hardships after an IRS audit that found the company’s records lacking. Though Watkins shares that she did, in fact, have documentation, it was deemed inadequate. As a result, Gregory Body and Fire Apparatus was closed down and millions of dollars worth of manufacturing machinery auctioned off. Holding her feet to the proverbial fire, Watkins lost her car, an elegant home and, most importantly to her, the ability to maintain the prison-to-work pipeline she offered to so many formerly incarcerated people. 

Undaunted, she shares, “I was heavy with grief [but] I woke up one morning and that grief was gone.” She concludes, “I have to practice what I teach.” Watkins is actively working to give herself a second chance. Though she has been unable to secure office space in Lodi, where she currently resides, identifying anti-Black racism as the root cause, she remains steadfast in her determination to revive Yeshua’s Second Chance Foundation with a new fire truck manufacturing company she intends to name “Pride of America.” 

Kia Shaun Walton (she/he) is a freelance journalist and educator working in the Bay Area. Kia is committed to justice, integrity and community. Please direct any inquiries to