J.J. Jimenez has a rapidly growing shoe shine business in Tallahassee.
“When I do a shoe, the more I rub it, I give it life,” he explained.
“The owner has allowed it to die. But with a little water, a little elbow grease, I bring that shoe back alive.
“I make that shoe come alive,” he emphasized again with wonder and quiet pride. “I make it seem like it’s never been tarnished or hurt or messed up in any way. I can feel the life in it. I can feel something happening when I do it.”
Like those shoes, Jimenez has been tarnished. He’s felt hurt and messed up, but now he, too, is coming back to life.
Jimenez spent seven years incarcerated. Three or four years ago, Jimenez wanted to cut hair at the jail, but since the jail needed someone to shine shoes, it was suggested he try that instead.
“I started with one pair and messed it up,” he said, shaking his head. “They left me in that room from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., every day. After a while, I went to rubbing and rubbing and rubbing and it got easier and easier, smoother and smoother, shinier and shinier until I started calling it JJ’s Shoe Shine.”
Over the next several years, Jimenez got really good at shining shoes and the officers at the jail started bringing their shoes to him and paying him for his work.
He grins as he quotes his new slogan, “There is no better shine than JJ’s Shoe Shine.”
Last year, Jimenez was an inmate at the Florida Department of Corrections Gadsden County Re-Entry Center, preparing to rejoin society. He met Sharon Crosby Slevin, a classification supervisor at the center and asked to shine her boots. She was amazed at the wonderful job he did and told her husband, Patrick, about him.
After his release from jail, Jimenez struggled initially. He was evicted and found himself homeless. He had a hard time finding another home. He said he got help from good Samaritans, Second Harvest and a minister at the Presbyterian church.
Even while he was homeless, he still shined shoes.
“It was like meditation for me, a stress reliever, to see my shoe come alive,” he said. He would look at the shoes and think, “I still got hope.”
About that time, Patrick arranged to have Jimenez shine a pair of his shoes for trial. They met at Krispy Creme Doughnuts for Slevin to pick up his shoes.
“I looked at those shoes and you could see the passion … I thought, ‘this is a man who takes pride in his art and we have a town in need of talent,’” Slevin said.
After Jimenez left, Slevin walked across the street to Capital Shoe Fixery and showed his shoes to the owner, Nick Camechis. Camechis told Slevin that Jimenez had approached him a couple of days earlier about shining shoes.
Jimenez said Camechis took him under his wing, even shared some shoe shine secrets with him and encouraged him to talk to Victor Gavalez, owner of Nic’s Toggery, about shining shoes there.
“Nick (Camechis) didn’t have to give me an opportunity, he took a chance. I can’t say how much that meant to me,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez now shines shoes for customer’s at Nic’s Toggery’s downtown store and G-Willy’s, a store which sells uniforms and related products primarily to law enforcement and medical professionals.
“I get to meet people I never got to meet before, lawyers, lobbyists, judges, state senators. I’ve done their shoes,” Jimenez said with a smile.
He also shines shoes for all of law enforcement, from state troopers to correctional officers.
He chuckles at the irony, “They’ve had to deal with me one way or another. Now the shoe is on the other foot. Judges, lawyers, the same people who saw me one time before on the other side get to see me on the good side, on the more positive side. They are proud of me. They knew I could do something good. I have people who truly believed in me.”
“I have great people behind me,” he continued, “but God is number one in my life. He is steering and blessing me. He has put the right people in the right place at the right time.
“It makes me feel great about myself and I’m excited about the things that are happening in my life right now. It seems like every door that was locked and closed is now open for me,” he said fervently.
“It took a lot of patience, a lot of perseverance, a lot of sincerity of what I believe in. There were many days I wanted to give up, but I had that support, not only from my new wife, but support of friends who believed, ‘hey, JJ, you can do this,’” he said.
“It’s amazing. I had to fight through some things,” he said, “but this is not about messing up. This is a chance for me to show others, I don’t care what you have been through in life, there’s still an opportunity and there are good people out here that are willing to help if you are willing to help yourself.”