Posted on 13 April 2013.
Students in the Osborne Association’s Green Career Center in the Bronx practice pitching themselves to potential employers in front of their class.
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Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing a new statewide initiative that gives employers up to $2,400 for each formerly incarcerated person they hire. But first, they’ve got to get the job. Christie Thorne reports.
We’ve all filled out job applications. You write down your name, your employment history, add a few reference contacts. And then you’re asked about your criminal history. Each year, about 700,000 people have to mark YES to that question. That’s the number of men and women leaving the U.S. prison system.
RONALD DAY: Often times it’s like, well, if that person has checked off on an application that he or she has been convicted of a crime, sometimes those applications get put in the garbage.
Ronald Day is the Director of Workforce Development at the Osborne Association, a non-profit that offers practical skills and support for the formerly incarcerated.
RONALD DAY: What we want to do is try to level the playing field for individuals because we know that there’s a great deal of discrimination and a lot of stigma.
SOUND: Students chatting in class at The Osborne Association
It’s a busy Monday morning at the Osborne Association’s headquarters on Westchester Avenue in the Bronx. Fifteen grown men sit in a classroom staring at the front of the room.
SOUND: Teacher talking to students in the classroom
They’ve all spent time in prison, but none intend on going back.
SOUND: Student presents a pitch exercise
Today they’re crafting one-minute pitches – written to sell themselves to potential employers.
SOUND: Student presents a pitch exercise (Continued)
He’s fine practicing one on one, but when he reads in front of the class he stumbles. Disappointed in himself, he gest choked up. But he’s encouraged to keep going by the class, and he does.
SOUND: Students applaude
Then comes the important part. Getting feedback from his classmates.
SOUND: Students critique pitch exercise
After weeks of work on their resumes and practice interviewing, they’ll move on to technical skills, like plumbing and construction. When they make the transition in a few weeks, they’ll be come students of Alvin Banks.
ALVIN BANKS: I think it’s important to provide that inspiration or that template for people to see, like listen – there are opportunities out here and if you work hard enough you can be afforded them and life is not over.
Banks knows what they’re going through first hand. He graduated from here about two years ago, after he struggled to find a job when he got home from prison.
ALVIN BANKS: I came home from the Federal system February 10th, 2011. I did approximately 10 years altogether.
Ten years for fraud. The first thing Banks did when he got out was spend time with his four kids.
ALVIN BANKS: My youngest is 5. She was born while I was on Rikers and I actually was listening to her mother give birth on the phone. I made a decision the last time I was in prison to not come back.
A big part of staying out? Finding a job.
ALVIN BANKS: I was promptly told that I was basically unemployable because of my record.
And this is where a big problem lies for people that are trying to re-enter normal life. Ann Jacobs is the Director of the Prisoner Re-Entry institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
ANN JACOBS:It’s human that when we get discouraged, when we can’t think of the next thing to do and be hopeful about it that we revert to old patterns. I mean, I do think that’s the essence of recidivism.
About 40 percent of people leaving prison will be back in the system within three years. That number is even bigger in New York City – as many as half will go back.
ANN JACOBS:We should want to welcome them back to society and to have them have a stake in the larger whole.
Another problem is that many people returning from prison are going back to places that aren’t equipped to support them. Jacobs says to tackle recidivism we also need to look at these communities. But Alvin Banks says his main goal is to keep them focused on the uphill battle ahead.
ALVIN BANKS:I tell the participants that we have to be more diligent, we have to work harder. We have to get up earlier, we have to be smarter, we have to be more resilient than the average person because of our background.
And the strategy behind Governor Cuomo’s Work for Success program is to help ex-prisoners help themselves. Because lowering recidivism is ultimately good for everyone. Christie Thorne, Columbia Radio News.