In New York, 52,000 adults are incarcerated in the state’s prisons. Each year, about 22,000 of those prisoners are released. Landing a job in a city like New York can be difficult. And getting one with a criminal record… is even harder. Meira Gebel has more on the re-entry programs that help smooth it over. (0:16)
After 27 years of incarceration, Craig Twiggs was out, and he knew where he was headed.
“They gave me $40 and a bus ticket. And that’s all I had at the time, and if it wasn’t for hearing about the Doe Fund from other prisoners, that’s all I would have had… $40 and a bus ticket. (0:15)
The they he’s talking about is the Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing and Able program. It helps formerly incarcerated and homeless men find and train for jobs. And tonight is Twiggs’ graduation. He’s wearing a powder blue cap and gown. Buffet tables line the sides of the basement of St. Ignatius Church on the Upper East Side ready for the ceremony to start. Twiggs got out of prison a year ago, and you might think he was worried about a job, but he has one. Those workers you see on city sidewalks cleaning up trash, Twiggs is their vehicle dispatcher.
I make sure those vehicles are ready to dispatch clients to those project. Manhattan
Mark Goldsmith helps ex-cons like Twiggs. His program GOSO teaches them how to create resumes and properly introduce themselves to potential employers. He says it can be hard to explain a criminal record.
There’s no simple answer to this thing. There’s a stigma, there’s no question there’s a stigma.
And he says, there’s another problem —
It’s not easy, I wouldn’t characterize it as easy, but they have to be willing to start at the bottom, they have to be willing to do entry level positions (0:11)
Goldsmith says you might not know it but there are a lot of programs designed to help newly released prisoners find jobs. But getting the word out can be hard.
What we could use is a department of re-entry that coordinates all the services. There are plenty of services in New York City, plenty of them, the problem is, these guys don’t know how to get to them. What they need is better direction when they come out of the prisons (0:18)
Carlos Quintana, is with John Jay’s Criminal Justice Prison Reentry Institute. He says outreach inside prison is difficult. It can be hard for nonprofits to coordinate efforts to reach the tens of thousands of prisoners in New York state. Especially without help from the prison system. That means for many prisoners word of mouth from peers is really the only outreach they get about possible job opportunities.
While I do think word of mouth is very powerful, I think it speaks to the fact that in the prison and jail system, the focus is not on helping them return home. (0:11)
Back at the graduation, Twiggs is ready to climb the stage. He’s valedictorian. Ask him how he got here, his eyes begin to swell. His voice gets tight.
“I had never even thought about the things that they think about me, but they say they see all these things in me, so I guess you would have to ask them, because I don’t know. But I am humbled. (0:11)
(sound: cheering “Twiggs!!!”) (0:10)
All eyes are on Twiggs. The front rows are filled with other graduates. But right behind them is next year’s class, one year to go till they get caps and gowns of their own. Meira Gebel, Columbia Radio News.