Friday, February 1, 2008

Dan Rodricks on Ex-Offenders not getting jobs

Interesting column, Dan!

Truly, you are doing God's work! However, there are some things out there that need to be considered when reading this column--particularly from an employer's perspective. There are some employers out there who will hire ex-offenders because of the nature of their businesses, and their need for staffing. However, more and more employers do not want people with criminal convictions on their premises---and not just those who have just gotten out of prison, either.

Most employers operate on this main theoretical premise: you will do what you have done. It's pretty hard to get convicted in this town nowadays. Offenders often get two, three, four bites out of the apple, suspended sentences, probation, etc. But unless they change their ways, they are still they. The guy that served 11.5 years had to do some serious stuff to get there, and that was probably 75% of his sentence. And probably not the first time he did bad things, for sure. So, in essence, the punishment continues. People make choices.

After working closely with a fair number of ex-offenders, I have found the ones who have done long stretches in DOC really don't plan on going back if they can help it. Of course, I know the odds are against them. But at least the majority seem reasonably motivated to do some serious jobhunting. I try to coach them on where they should look, and where they should not look, because it is probably a waste of time. The guy looking for a housekeeping job at a hospital is not likely to find success. Healthcare institutions, those dealing with kids, hotels, and apartment complexes do not want people with convictions working for them--with certain exceptions. (If you're working in a kitchen in a hosptial, they probably are using an agency for staffing, and only rule out convicted felons.) So if the man in Rodrick's story was looking in any of these places, he has a very low probability of success.

The offenders who aren't just out of DOC are more hard-headed, though their records are usually not as bad. However, most employers run the other way when you've been convicted of assault. You really have to honestly sell yourself, and somehow prove that you've changed. Most of the folks I've worked with who have a lot of trouble finding jobs have one or more of the following "barriers to employment": dropped out of school in the 9th or 10th grade; never went back for a GED; no or little computer skills, history of run-ins with the boys in blue, often with "chump" convictions (Oh, I don't have any felony convictions--as if thast makes everything ok); often have a substance abuse issue, and won't stop smoking blunts or coke; no driver's license (or sometimes had one but suspended or revoked or expired); no good ID or social secuirty card; and finally, they often have a "street" attitude: look scary like they're ready to fight, look like thugs, long white shirts, wrinkled and dirty hanging down close to their knees, and can barely put a sentence together. Finally, looking for a job is a job in itself: a full-time job. Their followup is often poor to non-existent.

Many employers who need help tend not to hold minor or old convictions against folks if they're honest and halfway sell themselves. But those employers are limited to certain fields. Come on, would you want somebody working in your house who served over 11 years for burglary and obstruction of justice or assault? Or working around your loved one's hospital room or working in your hotel or apartment building? The sad truth is that the Division of Correction doesn't do much correcting--and everybody knows it.

Wood Curry, a therapist who runs the Baltimore Station, a therapeutic community for ex-addicts, sums it up well when he says that you have to teach the addict a new way of looking at and dealing with the world. In his building the entire first floor has floor to ceiling mirrors. When asked why, Woody said: "everywhere you look there's a problem." I thinks this applies to both addicts and ex-offenders: until they take a choice to straighten themselves out, they might possibly get a job, but usually they won't keep it very long.

Most employers don't weant to take the time to find out if the ex-offender is ready to make a change--not to mention the risk. Many employers have been sued by victims of their employees who they did not properly vet and committed a serious crime against a customer or fellow employee. Remember, people that operate in the criminal subculture live chaotic lives which are marked by deception and deceitfulness, and manipulation, and "getting over'. We all have a little of this in us, but keep it under control reasonably well so that we function ok in the workplace and actually help other people. But in order to survive in prison and the drug world, and on the streets, addicts and criminals function differently. It's all about what they want and what's theirs and "me".

Unfortunately, in Baltimore, and many other large cities, these folks did not choose their parents well: no one to tell them they loved them, or showed they cared about them, or taught them a sense of personal responsibility.

So, it's sad and expensive but most serious offenders and recent offenders are just going to have a hard time finding most kinds of jobs unless, in the workforce development vernacular, "they're ready".

1 comment:

jdavis said...

I have a daughter that has a felony on her record. She has had several good jobs but once they do a background check she is let go. She has been drug free for two years. Her problem isn't not being able to get a job but keeping one. What are we saying as a society that once you make a bad choice that it for you. I think this is why Ex-Offenders become repeat Offenders. Is there any one I can write and complaint about this matter? She has herself and a child to take care of. She is becoming very discourage and no hope for her future.With this monkey on her back What is her future?