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

On endings…

I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.

     Gilda Radner, actress and comedian (1946-1989)

I hate endings, too.  I’ve never been good at them and there’s never a perfect time.  But with the New Year coming, I’ve decided to take a break from teaching at the jail.  

Part of what  made the decision so difficult was that I don’t feel as if I’ve finished anything.  I’ve graduated plenty of students in nearly three years of teaching employability skills, but it’s unclear how many have been successful finding jobs.  And  unfortunately the supply of new recruits never ends.

For a number of reasons, however, it’s time to step away for now.  I’ve been stretched thin with work and other responsibilities.   I was also starting to feel burnt out, which in teaching is never a good thing.   Perhaps a break will refresh me and I’ll return. Or perhaps I’ll find a different way to help. I don’t know.   I just feel it’s time to talk to people on the outside and pursue some other projects I’ve been putting off.

In any event, I plan to continue the  Out and Employed blog as a resource for my former students and others looking to start over. I hope you’ll  forgive my absence and look for me to start posting again in the New Year.

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Can you get professional license with a felony?

 Q:  I committed a b-felony arson in 2004 when I was having psychological issues from undiagnosed bipolar. I am clear and in college again, but I didn’t continue pursuing my psychology I started before the incident because I assumed I could not be licensed with a felony. I am currently in Computer Information Technology at Purdue and am not sure I wasn’t better off in psychology. What are the options for a felon being licensed in a state like Indiana? Haven’t found any straight answers online. What do you recommend? CIT is a more in-demand degree, so I figured I’d have a better shot in a field in need like computers. I liked psychology, but I want to get a degree I will have the best chance of getting a job with. I’m not sure where I want to focus my efforts.

A:   First of all, congratulations for moving on with your life and continuing to pursue your education!  That’s no small accomplishment and you should take pride in the fact that you’ve addressed your own issues and remained focused on the future.

As to your question: if psychology is what you love,  don’t give up your dream.  Getting licensed as a psychologist, even with a felony, is not impossible.  Dr. Paul Fauteck, an ex-offender turned forensic psychologist, who has answered questions on this blog, is living proof of that.   I also checked with the Indiana State Psychology Board and although drug offenses might be a bar to getting licensed,  there are no specific provisions in the statute that would automatically disqualify someone with your record.   Further, officials also consider how much time has passed since a conviction and what you have done since then. To get more information, I’d recommend  sending them a note detailing your specific circumstances at the email address provided.     

Note that  licensing requirements for psychologists and other professions vary by state.  In Texas, for example, a felony would bar you from practicing as a psychologist.  In California, a felony might get in the way as well, unless you have obtained a certificate of rehabilitation.  So you might want to check out the National Directory of Psychologists for information about licensing requirements in other states.

That said,  whether you stick with Computer Information Technology or go back to psychology is entirely up to you.  They’re both good options.  Certainly, CIT is a hot field and if that’s what you prefer, it may be easier initially to find a job.  But there are plenty of positions out there for psychologists, as well.   I guess what I’m trying to say is that — no matter how bad the economy is — finding a job quickly shouldn’t be your main criteria. I’m  no career counselor, but as someone who went into accounting because it was practical, I can attest to how miserable it can be to work in a field you don’t enjoy for the sake of money or security. 

So my advice would be to follow your heart on this one.  Good luck and please let us know what you decide.

And readers, have any of you struggled with these kinds of choices, or licensing issues?  How did you handle them?  What’s been your experience?

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Filed under education ex-offenders, job search ex-offenders, professional licensing ex-offenders, second chances

Convictions: Who feels the pain and for how long?

Once again, a shout out  to one of my favorite bloggers, Matt Kelley, who writes for the Criminal Justice blog at Change.org.  Matt recently highlighted some new research that provides data on the lasting costs of incarceration, highlighting who’s most affected and why this increases the gap between the haves and have-nots.

The study,  Incarceration and Social Inequality ,  conducted by sociologists Bruce Western of Harvard and Becky Pettit of the University of Washington, appears in the MIT journal Daedalus.  In their research the authors found that the social inequality produced by mass incarceration was so enduring for 3 reasons: 

  1.  It’s invisible in that prisoners aren’t typically included in employment and other statistics, 
  2.  It’s cumulative in its impact,  and
  3. It affects not only adults but their children, spanning generations. 
Among their findings:
  •  Of men aged 20 to 34 — the largest chunk of the prison population incarceration rates have grown the most for the least educated populations.  In 1980, 10 percent of African Americans in this age range who hadn’t completed high school were incarcerated, today that rate is 37%.  Similarly, in 1980 less than 1 in 50 White dropouts were incarcerated, by 2008, that rate was had climbed to 1 in 8.
  •  The incarceration rate for black men born between 1975 to 1979  nearly quadrupled from the rate for those born twenty years earlier.  
  •  People who have been incarcerated and fall into the lowest income group, have the least mobility of anyone.
  •  The impact of conviction goes beyond the person sentenced to a prison term  to adversely affect their children.  How many kids  have a parent who is incarcerated?  Nearly 2 percent of white children, 3.5 % of Latino children and 11 % of African  children.  

This  dovetails with what legal scholar  Michelle Alexander talks about in her recent book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness.  Alexander’s argument, well- supported by research, is that the unprecedented rise in people being sent to prison since the 1970s is creating a permanent underclass.  Individuals end up being punished in perpetuity, she says,  as their records are often to deny them employment, housing and other opportunities that might help them rebuild their lives.

 

You can read the full report here.    

 

 

 

 

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Questions NOT to ask during an interview

Right now we’re discussing how to answer interview questions in my class.   It’s always a challenging part of the course since talking about your past can be difficult if you have a criminal record. 

I’ve dealt before with the importance of knowing what you’re going to say and being honest. 

But what about the part of the interview where the employer turns the tables and asks if you have questions?   While I recommend having at least a couple to ask, there are also some areas where you should never go.  Below are a few of  these questions and the reasons to avoid them.  

 1.  How much does the job pay?  Save it for after an offer is made.  At this point you should be focused on the job, not the money. 

2. What are the benefits?    Again, post- offer is better.

3. How much vacation time will I get?    You haven’t even started the job and you’re asking about time off?

4. Can I work from home?      This is a privilege you earn after you’ve demonstrated what you can do.

5.  What kind of company is this?   Shows you haven’t done your homework.

6.  What do you like least about this employer?     Could demonstrate a negative attitude.

7. How much help will I get?     Sounds lazy.

8.  How did I do?      Puts employer on the spot.

9.  I don’t have any questions.      Sounds like you’re not interested enough in the job.

What should you ask?   Questions about what the training will be like, future expansion plans for the company, routes to advancement and the interviewer’s personal experience with the  company are all fair game.  Many candidates also ask if there is anything to indicate they might not be a good fit for the job.  The answer may give you an opportunity to refute any doubts the employer may have.

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Finding a job with a felony: a success story

What does it take to get a job with a record?   When I teach, I allude to factors like  knowing your strengths, having a plan, dealing with setbacks and never giving up.  But it’s not often that I get an opportunity to show this in action.

Recently, however, a reader wrote in with a story that allows me do just that.  Although he didn’t want his name used, this man, who I’ll call Thomas, agreed to let me share his experiences on the chance that they might help someone else.

When I first heard from Thomas he admitted he was desperate:  

 I’m hoping maybe you can suggest something that I’m overlooking ….I ‘ve now been a year and a half with no job.  I can’t even get a reply to my Pizza Hut delivery driver application.  Right now it is 4:25 AM and I can’t sleep because my nine year marriage is about to collapse primarily because of the job situation…..

Thomas had been convicted nearly 20 years ago.  He’d done his time, made reparations to the victims and then moved overseas.   There, miraculously, he says, he was  hired at the second place he applied for a job, even after he’d told the employer about his  conviction.  Within two years he’d been promoted to supervisor and then to a more senior position.  This led to a better job at a Fortune 500 company. 

His troubles began when he moved back to the U.S.   Even with his work experience, no one would hire him.   When he wrote me he’d given up on his former profession and was considering going to truck driving school.   He’d found a cheaper program in a nearby state and  gotten a small veteran’s scholarship and a  loan to pay for part of it.  Yet he still wasn’t sure how he could afford living expenses.  He wasn’t writing to ask for money, but to see if I had any ideas on how he could finance it.  

I sent a note of encouragement and some suggestions.  He thanked me and I didn’t expect to hear from him again.   

Two days later, he emailed.  He’d called the school and gotten an offer of work study.   He’d contacted parishes and re-entry organizations in the area to find leads for a place to stay. He figured he could cut meal costs by relying on local food pantries, use free internet at the library and cut travel costs by using http://www.gasbuddy.com   He’d also investigated trucking firms to see which ones were receptive to hiring ex-offenders.  His only concern was he might have to hold off till the next class sesssion because time was running out and he didn’t want to set himself up for failure.   So he also got in touch with some former colleagues he hadn’t talked to in years and three of them agreed to be references.  Then he began looking for jobs.

Two weeks later, I received this note:

I got a job offer yesterday.  After reading a study that said 90% of people would not consider hiring someone with a violent felony conviction, I was getting pretty discouraged, but then it dawned on me that if 90% don’t that still means 10% do…so logically then it is just a numbers game.  Assuming that the study was accurate, that means that submitting 100 applications will result in 10 people who are willing to give an ex-con a try.  I have to admit, that after 30+ “No” answers, it takes a certain amount of determination to believe that the “Yes” is still lurking out there…but it was.  Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to go all the way to 100.

 It turned out the position for which he was hired hadn’t been advertised.  He’d simply seen a new business opening and gone to apply.   “The job was one that I had no direct experience with,” he said, ” but I decided to apply anyway because what is the worst they could do…tell me “no”?”

Obviously, things didn’t happen overnight for Thomas.  But what I like about this story is that even when he was asking for help, he was helping himself. He was  researching possible options before asking for suggestions, and he kept on doing his homework afterwards.  When truck driving school seemed like it might not work, he went to Plan B, contacting references and looking around for potential jobs.  He also went beyond employment ads, contacting companies directly and ultimately finding a job that hadn’t even been advertised yet. 

My hat is off to him, and to everyone else  out there who refuses to give up.  

 Is there something you can do to jumpstart your job search today?

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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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