Photo/IllutrationTerumasa Ozawa, president of the Hokuyo Kensetsu construction firm, shows off a recruiting poster to be shown at prisons. (Takashi Nakajima)

SAPPORO—His mobility is increasingly limited, his speech is further impaired, and he is expected to die within three years. But Terumasa Ozawa will not ease up on his mission to help rehabilitate former convicts.

Ozawa, 44, the third-generation president of Hokuyo Kensetsu, said he will continue hiring convicted criminals, a practice long held by the construction company.

“If convicts are given jobs after leaving prison, they will be less likely to commit crimes again,” Ozawa said. “This will also lead to a reduced number of victims in the future.”

Hokuyo Kensetsu was established here by Ozawa’s father in 1973. The company has hired more than 500 former convicts, a number believed to be the largest among any business in Japan.

After dropping out of high school because he was not allowed to form a boxing club, Ozawa became the drummer of a rock band. After his father died when Ozawa was 17 years old, he started working at Hokuyo Kensetsu.

In 2012, when he was 37, Ozawa developed spinocerebellar degeneration, a rare disorder that affects the brain and leads to the inability to speak or walk and finally death.

Seven years ago, a doctor told Ozawa that he had only 10 years to live.

Undaunted, Ozawa took over as president from his mother in 2014 and accelerated the company’s long-established policy of employing former inmates.

He asked prisons across Japan to show his company’s recruiting posters to the convicts.

The job interviews are conducted in prison, and Ozawa uses his own funds to cover transportation and other expenses in his recruitment activities.

He acknowledges that one big problem is that many former inmates soon quit the company. They now account for only one-third of its 60 employees.

“There is no time for me to lament,” Ozawa said. “I will just keep employing convicts.”

Although he has to be hospitalized more frequently and feels that death is nearing, he intends to continue touring prisons until his last moment.

In the summer, Ozawa published a 175-page book titled “Yomei 3 Nen: Shacho no Yume” (Three years left: Dream of president) to detail his story and provide tips on life.