Arturo Cano: A second chance for the American dream

Beth KinnaneOur Town Neighbors, South Knox

Arturo Cano spends a lot of time these days cleaning up Gary Underwood Park in South Knoxville. He’s also spent a lot of time knocking on doors to get his neighbors to sign petitions for speed bumps and other traffic calming measures. These are but two of the reasons he was nominated for the Diana Conn Good Neighbor of the Year Award.

“Though I didn’t win, it was an honor to be recognized for it,” Cano said. “This is just my way of paying it back.”

For Cano, the “it” he is paying back is the second chance he got in life after doing, frankly, something stupid for a stupid reason. Nearly 20 years ago, Cano got busted for selling drugs. Why was he doing it? “I was trying to impress a girl,” he said.

Cano was raised on the border of South Texas, near Brownsville. Though he was a good student, by his own admission, he was “always into no good.” His mother thought a change of scenery might help straighten him out, so she sent him to Knoxville to live with his sister.

Arturo Cano

His initial time here put proof to the idea of “no matter where you go, there you are” because being in a new town didn’t bring immediate change to his behavior.

“Instead of being a leader, I chose to be a follower,” Cano said. “Then I caught a charge. I think things happen for a reason. If it wasn’t for prison, I think I’d be dead in the streets.”

Cano decided to put his five years in federal prison to good use. He became the GED teacher for his fellow inmates. When he got out in 2009, he wasted no time getting back to work and back in school. Even now, at age 43, he works two jobs and is going to Pellissippi State to get his associate degree in civil engineering. He already has a bachelor’s in organizational leadership from Tennessee Tech.

“I decided to get out, get a job and help out,” he said. “I wanted to get involved in my community. I owed my community that for the wrong things I had done in the past. I wanted to be a good example for children.”

Cano said that while he wouldn’t go back to the life he used to live, he is not ashamed of it. One of his jobs is working for the city of Knoxville in the traffic and engineering department. How did he get the job with his record?

“I told them the truth,” he said. “I decided, along with going to school, I had to set myself apart from other people. I just kept telling myself, ‘Someone’s going to believe in you and tell you yes.’ I just kept pushing.”

Those years of pushing included living in a halfway house on Magnolia Avenue and riding all across town on a bicycle to get to his various jobs, including the Cracker Barrel in Cedar Bluff and a Subway in Halls.

“I always volunteered for extra hours,” Cano said. Eventually he made enough money and got stable enough to buy a house in the Colonial Village neighborhood.

“I have always loved South Knoxville,” he said. “I have a great job that I love. I am living the American dream.”

Beth Kinnane is the community news editor for

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