Category Archives: starting over

The fear factor

When it comes to getting over the emotional hurts of failure, it really doesn’t matter how good or bad your personal history is. The only thing that matters is that you face your fear and get moving.       — John C. Maxwell, author

freefall2

Too often, the biggest barrier to making a change or taking a positive step in life is that other F-word. FEAR. It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting over after serving time, regrouping after a divorce or simply trying to get a new project (or long-neglected blog) up and running.

I was reminded of this last night as I sat with a group of 8th graders who will be making their confirmation in our local Catholic church this May.  My role as discussion leader was to go around the circle and have each teen share something that scared them.

As you might expect, there was plenty of nervous laughter. I also got a few shrugs and attempts to change the subject.  One girl pecked away at her cellphone as if she might find the answer there. But nobody wanted to volunteer that they were afraid of anything.  God forbid. It was easier to talk around it or challenge the need to even discuss the subject.

Finally, just when I was despairing we’d spend the rest of our time in silence,  a boy I’ll call Andy spoke up.   “Spiders,”  he said.  “They creep me out.”

The other teens laughed and the tension was broken. Suddenly our circle awash with fears. Bugs. Snakes. Heights. One boy even confessed to being terrified of getting run down by a car.  Sure, these weren’t likely their deepest, darkest fears, or the one they would never voice — looking foolish in front of each other. But at least these kids were sharing something and learning they weren’t alone.

Afterwards, the event moderators upped the stakes by asking for volunteers for a series of “Fear Factor” type challenges.  Teens competed to eat bowls of repulsive-looking “mystery” food.  Some ran an obstacle course with dog biscuits or smelly fish in their mouths. Two girls picked live bugs out of jars of candy. By the end of the night, Andy, from my group, was up in front of more than 100 of his peers, racing to finish off a suspicious-looking green goo and whipped cream pie.

This all happened over the course of about twenty minutes with a group of self-conscious 13 and 14 year olds.  That’s what got me thinking about John C. Maxwell’s quote above.  Maxwell, who’s written two dozen books on leadership and  maximizing your potential, has spent years studying the secrets of successful people.  In his bestselling book, Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success, he advocates learning from your errors, but leaving them in the past. Too many people become mired in replaying their failures and unable to move forward.  The only way to get over your fear, he says, is to take action.  Even if it’s just one small step towards your objective.

So what one step can you take for your future today?  Is it making a list of employers?  Going to a 12-step meeting? Following up with your friend about that potential part-time job? Researching degree requirements at the local community college?  Taking your sister up on her offer to watch the kids so you can visit your local employment center?

Whatever that step is, try to handle it like my teens eventually did.  Acknowledge your fears, but don’t fret.

Just do it.

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Filed under employment ex-offenders, hope for ex-offenders, inspiration, personal responsibility, second chances, starting over, taking responsibility

Out and Employed is BACK!

Yes, it’s been awhile.   More than a year and a half, actually.  When I took a break from writing this blog, it wasn’t because I’d lost interest in the issues faced by folks who have criminal records. Rather, it was that I needed to pursue some writing that actually earned me money.

So I did.  And I continue to.

But a funny thing happened along the way.  Many of you didn’t stop reading.  In fact, daily page views for Out and Employed steadily rose.  Some of you continued to share your struggles with me privately or even send me questions.  I felt bad about not always being able to respond.  I figured maybe other blogs or websites would pick up the slack, and they have.  There’s a lot more out there than when I started this blog in early 2009.

And yet…it still seems that there can never be enough.  So as of today, I will be relaunching this blog and getting back up to date on the state of the reentry challenge — what’s changed, what’s stayed the same and what the new issues are.  I’ve already updated my links to add new resources and fix the broken ones (thank you to the careful readers who pointed those out).  Please let me know if there are any other useful sites that I should have on my blogroll.

My initial impressions: Obviously, the job market hasn’t gotten any easier.  But the information out there to help ex-offenders and others with criminal records has definitely improved.  I remain in awe of The National Reentry Resource Center, which continues to offer the best one-stop shopping for anyone looking for assistance making the transition from incarceration back to working life.  In fact, a new addition on their site gets my…

Most useful help line:  Did you know that in many parts of the country you can dial 211 if you need help finding food, housing, health care, counseling or other community services?   I didn’t.  To see if this service is available in your area, go here and enter your zip code.

Most encouraging statistics:  Recidivism — that’s folks returning to prison — is significantly down in a number of states.  A report issued by the Council of State Governments in September found Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas and Vermont each were able to reduce their recidivism rates through a variety of measures. These included programs targeting those at highest risk for reoffending, improved training for parole officers, more community-based housing and increased use of home monitoring.  For each state, the study compared three-year post release recidivism rates for individuals released in 2005 with those released in 2007.  Michigan showed the biggest improvement with an 18% drop in its rate, while Kansas was second with at 15% reduction.  For more details you can read the report.

Most pressing questions:   Here’s where you can help me.  What are your questions?  What challenges are you facing right now?  What would you like to see me write about?  Please let me know and I’ll try to cover it in a future post.

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Filed under employment assistance ex-offenders, jobs ex-offenders, recidivism, reentry, reentry resources, starting over

Reentry updates: prison reform, women ex-offenders and the perils of Facebook

There’s a lot going on in the justice/reentry arena these days.  Here’s a quick update of what I’ve been following:

 Justice reform: will we or won’t we?

Last month, I wrote about Senator Jim Webb’s newly updated prison reform bill.  Alas, soon after, Webb announced he wouldn’t be running for a second term.  Which leaves me wondering: will a combination of  the Senator’s lame duck status and Congress’ need to focus on more pressing issues (wars, spending cuts, etc.) , push national justice reform again to the back burner?

Or will the action, as some – like the folks at Right on Crime – suggest, come more at the state level?  That’s certainly been the trend lately.    Last week, Georgia approved a bill that would set up a similar commission that will recommend reforms to that state’s prison system.   Meanwhile, the House in Oklahoma passed what’s being called the “most significant prison reform package in decades.”  Among other measures, the bill would make terms run concurrently and enhance the ability for sentences to be served within the community.

In addition, Ray Hill’s  the Prison Show  in Houston will be putting some artistic emphasis behind the need for change in our justice system when he hosts the Prison Reform Film Festival next month.

Women’s issues

I’ve worked almost exclusively with female offenders over the past couple of years.  So  I know their experiences in the justice system are very different than those of men, who make up the majority of offenders.   So I was happy to see NPR’s Kojo Nnamdi Show devote a segment recently to the unique challenges women face in terms of serving sentences and reentrying society.  There was also an interesting piece on Russian prison reforms are helping women. 

Facebook Follies

In my employment skills classes I caution students to be careful about the personal information they share on sites  like Facebook or Myspace. It’s standard procedure for many employers to turn to social networking pages or places like  Twitter  to find out more about a job candidate or who they’re  hanging out with.   Everyone’s heard stories about how ill-advised boasts or drunken photos have cost people jobs .

Nor are  employers or job recruiters the only people who might be looking at what you post.   As a recent article suggests supervision officers may soon find it easy to track someone’s post-release behavior online, including whether he or she is still associating with criminals.   This particular article even goes so far as to suggest how probation and parole officers might document what they find  in order to have evidence in a revocation hearing.

Another reason it might be worth keeping an eye on your site, and what you and others post there.

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Filed under background checks, employment ex-offenders, job search ex-offenders, prison reform, reentry, starting over, women ex-offenders

Second chances: Michael Vick and the challenges for ex-offenders

It was heartening to hear of  President Barack Obama praising Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie for giving Michael Vick a second chance following  the quarterback’s release from prison. 

“He (Obama) said, ‘So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance,’ ” said Lurie, who did not indicate when the call occurred. “He said, ‘It’s never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail.’ And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall.”

You can’t get better press than that.  Even allowing for the fact that Vick, as a gifted athlete, is a unique case, his comeback does demonstrate the possibility of redemption and the importance of letting individuals take a crack at starting over.  What would be nice now would be to see Vick play a broader role in helping other ex-offenders start anew. 

They’re going to need it.   Despite an apparently rosy holiday retail season, the jobs picture hasn’t improved and the indicators are not encouraging.   A recent study by Rutgers University, which followed unemployed workers for 15 months noted that only a quarter had found new jobs and most of those were for lower pay and benefits.   “The Shattered American Dream: Unemployed Workers lose Ground, Hope and Faith,” found that  despite optimistic projections by some economists, many see the changes in the job market as structural and long-term.  New York Times columnist Bob Herbert does a great job of explaining the disconnect here.

One can only hope our leaders wise up  and  take some action to spur real  job growth sooner rather than later — and that in the meantime,  enlightened employers with good stories to tell like Vick’s get the word out.   

Do you know any you’d like to share?

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Filed under class issues, companies hiring ex-offenders, employment ex-offenders, jobs ex-offenders, Michael Vick, second chances, starting over, Uncategorized

Take a journey of hope

Today I’m over at Journey of Hope,  talking with host Rodney Mathers about, among other subjects:

  • Answering tough interview questions
  • How to handle gaps in your resume
  • Whether recent discrimination lawsuits and action by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will make it easier for people with criminal records to get a job.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the site, Journey of Hope is a terrific weekly podcast that deals with issues affecting ex-offenders.  Mathers started the program after he was released from prison and learned just how difficult it was to start over. His goal was to help others in this situation by offering somewhere they could  turn for help and encouragement.  On previous shows he’s dealt with everything  from job scams that target ex-felons to finding financing for further education or to start a business to dealing with the stresses of reintegration.

It’s a great resource, so check it out.  You can hear my interview here.

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Filed under education ex-offenders, employment assistance ex-offenders, employment ex-offenders, hope for ex-offenders, inspiration, reentry resources, second chances, starting over

Helping women start over….

 I was happy to see  the National H.I.R.E. Network  devoted its 5th Annual Policy  Conference last week  to one of the most overlooked groups of ex-offenders.

You guessed it  – women.

The advocacy organization, which is dedicated to helping individuals with criminal records,  focused some much needed attention on the fact that , as I’ve noted, women face unique challenges in starting over after incarceration.  At the same time, most reentry programs and efforts are devoted to the needs of the men.   There’s a lack of understanding about the female experience behind bars, as well as what their needs are after release.   There’s also a stigma.  

I also think H.I.R.E. came up with some interesting  recommendations for change:

Within facilities

  • Improved discharge planning, including reinstating Medicaid and obtaining a state identification card and birth certificate prior to release.
  • More higher education opportunities for women.
  • Placement for mothers within reasonable distance from children to encourage visitation.
  • Improved medical and psychiatric care, and an increase in trauma-informed corrections and service provider staff.

Reentry

  • A shorter, less-invasive process for securing a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct.
  • Improved communication between criminal and housing courts to reduce problems women have trying to reunite with their children upon reentry.
  • More transitional and affordable housing; too often women manage to reunite with their children only to wind up in a shelter.

Readers, how about you?    Are there any services you’ve seen that have helped women?  Anything you would add?

By the way, you can more about the conference here.

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Filed under criminal records, education ex-offenders, homelessness, hope for ex-offenders, reentry, reentry resources, starting over, women ex-offenders

Is it time to go back to school?

A former student recently contacted me with news that he was returning to school.    Yay!   As I’ve said  before, gaining additional education or skills is a great way to  boost your value in the job market.  Particularly these days,  when a surplus of applicants means employers can afford to be picky, and decent-paying  jobs you can get with just a high school diploma are fast disappearing.  

If you follow this blog, you know this is one of my favorite drums to beat.  If you’re new here, you might want to check out:  Five reasons training may be the answer for ex-offenders and others looking to make a fresh start.

That said, with the unemployment rate at 9.6 percent (and well into the double digits  in some sectors and  parts of the country),  training alone won’t guarantee you a job.  I’ve worked with a number of people with criminal records who’ve complained their certificates and additional degrees haven’t opened the doors they expected.   So before you jump back into the classroom, here are some things to consider  to help ensure you do it the right way:  

Look for programs that offer work experience or require an internship. 

The best way to get hired is to show an employer what you can do. Perhaps that’s why some of the strongest training and degree programs require that you do on-the-job training or an internship.   A 2008 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found companies offered jobs to nearly 70 percent of their interns.   In addition, nearly a third of the new college graduates that employers hired in 2007 were from their internship programs.  Even allowing that the recession has likely brought those numbers down some, that’s still a pretty good plug  for the benefits of getting your foot in the door early.  And even if an internship doesn’t lead to a job, you’ve still got a solid professional reference to use to find your next position.   

Do your homework

Don’t sign up for the first program that turns up in your junk mail or on the wall of  a subway train.  Ask a career counselor or job placement expert at your local state employment or CareerOneStop center for recommendations.  Look at accredited colleges or universities, or certificate programs offered by legitimate education and training firms.  Many online courses are also good, but be aware that online scams abound, so do your research.  Don’t be afraid to ask how a school’s  students  have fared. What are their job placement rates?  Can you talk to previous students about their experiences?   Make sure you know what you’re getting for your money.  The FTC, for example, has identified a number of scams that entice you to by software to train yourself for  a new career in medical billing and coding.  What they don’t tell you is that without connections or certification, you typically can’t find clients so it’s difficult to make money.     So again, buyer beware.

Be realistic

Can you devote the time you need to taking a course right now?   Can you afford it — both in terms of time and money?  Do you have an adequate understanding of the work your class(es) will entail and the number of years you might have to labor at lower levels before your training pays off?   When you’re eager to get started, it’s easy to overlook these questions, but doing so can lead to disappointment. Additionally, many people  coming out of the legal system  must contend with financial obligations like fines, court costs, mandated child support or restitution, which can make paying for and/or attending training impractical in the short-run, even if you can obtain a grant.  My former student had to work two jobs for nearly a year to pay his debts before he had enough money to consider taking a course.  But since he took the long-term view and didn’t expect everything to happen instantly, things worked out.    

Put the work in 

My sister recently started training to become a medical assistant.  Right off, she ran into fellow classmates copying others’ answers, failing to do the homework or simply not putting the effort in.   This won’t cut it come test time,  and it’s certainly not going to work when you’re being asked to assist a doctor in a medical procedure.  What’s more, when instructors hear of possible employment opportunities, they’re going to mention them to the hardest working students, not the slackers.  So if you’re too busy with work and other obligations to concentrate on a course now, or you’re simply not interested in the subject matter, do yourself a favor and save your time and money.

Readers how about you?  I’d love to hear from folks who have gone on to get additional training.  How did you do it?  What’s worked for you?  Is there anything you now would do differently?

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Filed under adult education, education ex-offenders, job search ex-offenders, job training, second chances, starting over, training ex-offenders, training for ex-offenders, unemployment