FRESNO, Calif. — After working for three months as a tutor at Fresno City College in 2016, Khoi Quach got a call that he needed to go to the campus police station.
"As soon as I heard that, I knew there wasn't going to be any good news," the now 28-year-old said.
At the station, he was told his background check came back, showing a conviction. He was fired.
When Quach was 17, a shooting at a party put him behind bars just a month before his high school graduation. Although he hadn't pulled the trigger, his gang affiliation with the shooter landed him in prison for six years under California laws aimed at cracking down on gang violence.
He was eager to put the episode behind him when he enrolled in college after serving his time.
Quach became a star political science student at Fresno City College, landing him an invitation from his instructor to tutor other students. But his firing proved to him it was going to be difficult to shed the stigma of being formerly incarcerated.
"It really woke me up to the reality of what that label attached to my name meant," he said.
Quach's rocky start at college is frustratingly typical for students trying to navigate college while having a criminal record, according to several formerly incarcerated people who spoke with The Bee.
Feelings of isolation and anxiety and lack of a support system are just a few of the obstacles people face when deciding to pursue higher education after imprisonment.
So when Quach found Project Rebound, a program that helps formerly incarcerated people integrate into society through higher education, he knew he would fit in.