by Wayne T. Dowdy
Time changes things. Ex-offenders struggled to obtain gainful employment for years. The blemish of a felony conviction decreased their chance of employment. Now, at many American companies, a criminal conviction does not automatically disqualify ex-felon job applicants. That is good news for society and taxpayers!
“The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, representing 1,300 business groups, agreed last month with the Counsel of State Governments Justice Center to provide assistance to chamber members in the hiring of ex-offenders.
“While some businesses have been interested in the past, ‘it becomes even more critical when the labor market is tight not to rule out qualified applicants,’ said David Rattray, a Los Angeles chamber executive.” Stigma of Criminal Record Fades, As U.S. Employers Get Desperate by Steve Matthews, Copyright 2017 Bloomberg L.P., published in the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (BNA Reporter), CRL, May 31, 2017.
PERSONALLY: In 1976, I was released from state prison and applied for numerous jobs. I even tried getting a job at some of the local state government agencies. During interviews, things went well until my criminal history became the topic, then I essentially got the infamous line, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” No one called.
A month later, I read a newspaper article about CETA, a program created to help disadvantaged people find employment. I applied there and experienced the same ole BS. I had had enough by then.
CRIMINAL THINKING: After hearing the same ole line, I looked at the interviewer and said, “I’m trying to get a job. No one will hire me. I have a wife at home, a baby, and another baby on the way. I’ve got to have a job to take care of them, but since no one will hire me, what are you saying, I should get a gun and go to work?”
He reconsidered and sent me for an interview at a Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi dealership. The company hired me as a mechanic. Unfortunately, the floor manager did not like me. If the Kelly’s Blue Book said to pay mechanics a certain rate for performing a specific task, he paid me less than normal. The other mechanics sympathized and agreed that he was unfair to me.
I quit after dealing with the disparity for several months. Within two years, I made a terrible mistake and picked up a gun to “get paid.”
CRIME PAYS: I got paid using a gun. What I got paid was a long-prison sentence because of the method of employment I chose to get paid. Crime pays with prison sentences that rob men and women of their lives.
A life of crime led to me robbing my children of a father to guide, protect, and provide for them; robbed my wife of a husband to fulfill his responsibilities in the marriage; robbed my siblings of their brother, my mother and father of their son, and turned me into a liability rather than an asset to the family.
GET A JOB: No, not with a gun. Being caught with a gun or bullet, would get me sentenced to fifteen years to life without parole. I don’t want to retire that way. The 35-year sentence I am almost finished with, gave me enough time to get rested and willing to get a real job.
PREPARING FOR THE JOB MARKET: On Sunday, May 28, 2017, Georgia Focus, a radio talk show, featured a Georgia Department of Labor official (I think it was Georgia Labor Commissioner, Mark Butler).
He spoke of programs to help the formerly incarcerated to find employment, and said that he has over 100,000 positions to fill. According to the radio interview and the BNA article, one of the biggest obstacles of some applicant/employees is a lack of soft skills.
SOFT SKILLS: show up for work on time, dress accordingly (if applying for a welding job, go dressed as if you are ready to start work, not in a three-piece suit); communication and people skills (working with others, being polite, considerate, etc.), and of course, working hard.
He also spoke on the value of following up on job applications; e.g., sending a message or calling to thank the employer for his or her consideration (as I recall, Mr. Butler used his daughter as an example of follow-up activities that landed her two interviews and then the job she sought).
THE WORLD OF WORK: In 1985-86, I graduated from The World of Work, a program to teach participants to be entrepreneurs, how to get a job, how to succeed in the business world.
(To view a photo of me while giving a graduation speech from a podium at the Hilton Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, visit my photo gallery at here..)
I secured the first position I applied for at Bankhead Enterprises, Inc. (BEI). I drove a truck to pick up and deliver parts for their Transportation Division (Bankhead Transportation Equipment). Within two years, I held multiple positions and increased my salary by fifty-percent.
One position I held was as the assistant manager of the Equipment Maintenance Division. I brought it out of the red for its first time by billing all expenses. All of the department heads complained about an increase in overhead, but it made my boss happy. 🙂
The last official position I held was in the Personnel Department. For a pay increase, I left to become an estimator for BEI’s fastest growing division (Bankhead Asphalt Paving). The manager wanted me to work for two weeks to show him what I could do before he decided how much to increase my salary.
SHARP DRESSED MAN: I made an irrational decision to quit because “that wasn’t the deal.” I wanted the raise to walk on the property in my three-piece suit. Yes, I was young and dumb, well dressed, but definitely young and dumb.
I left BEI and later worked for the Electrolux Corporation to sell vacuum cleaners and shampooers. I took top office sales on my first week out.
HISTORY HURTS: In 1988, an insurance company and real estate company both called and invited me to work for them. My criminal conviction prohibited me from getting license to sell insurance, homes or property.
The insurance company had hired me. I let the manager know I may not be able to get a license. I wanted to find out if I could be licensed before he invested the time into training me. With regret, he learned Georgia law prohibited me from selling insurance for his company.
The principles I learned in The World of Work worked. I failed to succeed because I had a problem with drugs and alcohol, a problem I no longer have, and one that screwed up my thinking. With over twenty-two years of sobriety, and a determination to succeed, I know I can make it in any company I chose to work for upon release.
SELL YOURSELF: To get a job, one must sell themselves to the potential employer. Employers do not care if the baby needs milk or if the spouse needs a new pair of shoes. Employers hire people to do the job and to profit/benefit from their labor, so an applicant must convince the employer they are the best candidate for the position, the one to make them money or best serve their interests.
COMPLETING THE APPLICATION: When completing an application, if it contains a field for Felony Convictions, write or type, “Will Explain During Interview.” That may allow you to get your foot in the door to sell yourself as the person for the job.
EXPERIMENT: If faced with resistance by a potential employer, and if you are confident of your ability to do the job, offer to work a week without promise of pay, unless you satisfactory perform the tasks. Walk away with dignity and pride whether you secure the position or not. Be proud of having given it your best.
ADVANCEMENT (GIVE MORE THAN YOU RECEIVE): If paid $10.00 per hour and only work to give an employer $10.00 worth of work, an employee will likely stay at $10.00 per hour; however, if that employee gives the employer work worthy of $20.00 per hour, he or she will likely be promoted, whether it be by advancing in the organization, or by an increase in his or her salary.
FEDERAL PRISON INDUSTRIES, INC. (UNICOR): For almost 28-years I’ve worked for UNICOR. Numerous politicians tried to shut the doors. UNICOR helps reduce recidivism by preparing inmates for the job market. I learned several marketable job skills since I began working for UNICOR on December 1, 1989.
The more promising positions have been working as a document control clerk, a tutor in an Apprenticeship Program for Quality Assurance Inspectors, a technical writer (since 1997), and an Internal Auditor for eleven years.
The former Quality Assurance Manager, once told an external auditor for the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI), who audited our Quality Management System for compliance with ISO 9001: 2008 Requirements, that I was like a gnat.
“When he’d ask me to do something we are supposed to do, if I put him off, he’d keep coming back to bug me to do it. He was like a gnat flying around in my face. I’d shoo him away but he’d keep coming back until I did what I was supposed to do.”
He retired and became a respectable employee for a private company.
I apply myself in whatever task I perform and do it to the best of my ability or not at all. In UNICOR, I apply myself more so to do my part to help keep it afloat for others to have an opportunity to learn and provide for themselves.
I expect those who earn more in a day than I earn in a month to do the same thing. That does not always work out when dealing with Union or federal employees who know it almost takes an act of Congress to terminate them. Most often, the bureaucracy rewards incompetence by promoting them instead of sending them to look for another job. Maybe President Trump can change that.
WORKKEYS: I began WorkKeys last month to help prepare for reentry into the job market. The title should have warned me that Workkeys required a lot of work. The curriculum entails Reading for Information, Applied Math, and Locating Information.
In the early ’80s, I took a Math remedial class at South Georgia College to bring my math skills up to college level. Now I am re-learning math because I forgot most of what I learned decades ago. Use it or loose it!
The Neurons inside my brain sparked when math entered the equation. Math is not my favorite course of study but that has not deterred me from proceeding with what I began. I am rising to the occasion because of my desire to succeed. I am striving for Platinum Certification. More will be revealed!
REENTRY & EMPLOYMENT: The changes in the job market give me more hope in securing gainful employment upon release. My age may also be a hindrance when I apply for jobs. Even so, I’m sure some employers prefer an older, more mature employee, who shows up for work on time, performs his duties in a prompt, efficient manner, and who proves himself an asset to their company, as I will do.
In “Reentry Programs Will Reduce Recidivism” (July 2016), I wrote on the reentry initiatives implemented by President Obama that will help ex-offenders obtain employment and become a taxpayer instead of a tax liability. I listed numerous companies willing to hire ex-offenders; e.g., The Coca-Cola Company, Georgia-Pacific, Kellogg Company, Staples, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Best Buy, and many others. Hopefully, Attorney General Sessions will not undo that as he has other initiates implemented by the Obama Administration.
Perhaps Georgia Governor, Nathan Deal, will hire an ex-offender when I am released. I have a lot to offer about issues affecting recidivism, including ideas for reducing it by helping the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated. After all, with my experience in corrections, I am somewhat an expert.
My corrections experience cost taxpayers well-over a million dollars. Employing me as a Consultant or auditor will yield favorable results by converting me into an asset, especially, for those with a vested interest in reducing recidivism through employment opportunities.
Wayne T. Dowdy writes StraightFromthePen.