Photographer Steven Burton helps ex-gang members see effects of tattoo removal

Skin Deep

Marcos Luna, one of the subjects of Skin Deep: Looking Beyond the Tattoos.

In a unique endeavor – soon to be a book – photographer Steven Burton digitally erased the tattoos from portraits of ex-gang members to show what they would look like without the ink. And the results were amazing.

During the two-year project, Skin Deep: Looking Beyond the Tattoos, Burton photographed 26 men and one woman, removed their tattoos using Photoshop and then interviewed them about their lives and how they felt about being tattooed.

It all began when a friend invited Burton to the premier of G-Dog, the documentary about Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. “I had just moved to L.A. . and knew nothing about gangs, but I was totally overwhelmed by the movie,” he says.

What Burton noticed most was the number of tattoos that adorned the Homeboys’ bodies and how tattoo removal played an important role in the organization’s mission. “I thought, I could take tattoos off with Photoshop and see what happens,” he says.

Excited by the prospect, he produced some sample before-and-after photos and took them to Homeboy the next day to gauge interest. The people he showed them to were impressed, and Skin Deep was on its way.

Photoshopping photos took more than 400 hours

Over a period of six months Burton photographed Homeboy members and some of their friends. Each shoot lasted only about 10 minutes, but Burton spent more than 400 hours to Photoshop the tattoos off of all of his subjects.

He later went back to show the people he photographed their “before-and-after” photos and to interview them so he could include their stories in the book. That was the biggest challenge he faced during the entire project.

“The hardest thing about this book was finding the people I photographed when I returned to L.A. (He was there off and on during the two years.) Some of them had left Homeboy and changed their phone numbers,” he says.

It may have been difficult to find them, but that’s when the project became more meaningful to Burton.

“I take pictures of somebody I don’t know and get to know them through their interviews. And once you get to know someone, the tattoos become less intimidating,” he says.

How subjects see themselves without their tattoos

“But the most interesting part of this project for me is how they see themselves. At first I was so focused on how other people see them. But when they saw the pictures is when I realized it was a pretty powerful concept.”

These portraits, four in all for each subject – a headshot and a full body photo each with and without tattoos – are paired with an interview in the upcoming book.

The interviews, some as long as 2,000 words, introduce the ex-gang members as real people, and bring to life their dreams and ambitions.

“They’re fascinating, amazing interviews,” says Burton. “I was so much more interested in where they want to go in their lives and how they have changed than the crimes they committed, because that’s more relevant. The interviews are about their aspirations and hopes. They’re about what the tattoos mean to them, the challenges they face and how they deal with day-to-day life.”

And showing the photos to his subjects was also an incredible experience for Burton. Although he was concerned that his subjects would be depressed, that didn’t happen.

“There was sadness when they saw the pictures and amusement as well. It was a reflective experience,” he says. “Many things passed through their minds. They wondered if their chances in life would be different if they didn’t look like this. The tattoos reflect the life they’ve been through.”

Even before they were able to see themselves without tattoos, 90 percent of his subjects had already decided to get their tattoos removed. Two of the men in the book have since been shot and killed by the police.

powerHouse Books to release Skin Deep in October

Although he’d like to continue the project, possibly taking it to prisons, Burton will remain busy with his photography business and promoting the book, which will be released in October by powerHouse Books.

The experience taught him a great deal and made him reevaluate his first impressions of people who may, at first glance, look very different from others. And his tattooed subjects inspired him.

“I learned about the incredible courage it takes to change your life. If these people can do what they do, then we have no excuses. They come from a pretty abusive background, and to actually change themselves and find work is incredibly humbling,” he says. “But mainly, I learned that they’re human beings like everyone else.”

When published this fall, Skin Deep: Looking Beyond the Tattoos will be available on Burton’s website, and through powerHouse Books, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

S.F. Bay Area philanthropist Matt Mochary sends ex-offenders to truck driving school

 

Matt MocharyThere are many ways that people become involved with helping formerly incarcerated individuals get back on their feet, but Matt Mochary’s story is rather unique. And what he does now – he sends people getting out of jail to truck driving school – proves, once again, that jobs are key to preventing recidivism.

After selling his company Totality Corp. to Verizon at the age of 31, Mochary had enough money to pursue other interests. What he decided to do was make movies. His first, Favela Rising, was shot in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The second, The Gloves, focused on heavyweight boxers who live and train in the South Bronx. Both of them opened his eyes to another existence of which he was previously unaware.

“When I was in Brazil making a documentary, I ended up spending a lot of time in the favelas. I realized there were no jobs there. The best job the people who live in the favelas could get was joining the drug gangs,” he says.

Mochary found the same thing to be true in the South Bronx. “I realized that if I had been born in that zip code I’d be a gang member as well as a gang leader. I had the thought that maybe convicted felons in the country are just doing what they have to do to eat. To survive,” he says.

He decided to test out his theory by working with an inmate being released from Riker’s Island, who had been incarcerated since the age of 14. “It was shockingly easy. I thought why wouldn’t I hire you. Because you look like a thug, talk like a thug and act like a thug. So I helped him look, act and dress like a kid who’d gone to an Ivy League college,” he says. (Mochary graduated from Yale University.)

After release, the guy got a job, but when they discovered his record the he was fired. And it happened several times. So Mochary decided that those leaving jail and prison need jobs where their record doesn’t matter. That would be construction work, truck driving or farm labor, and truck driving seemed to be the easiest of those to procure.

Shortage of qualified applicants for truck and bus driver job openings

According to Mochary’s research there are often shortages of qualified applicants for available truck and bus driver positions. And the pay can be pretty good – $20-$25 per hour to start. Driving public passenger buses usually pays more, though, and the benefits are often better. Therefore, in most cases, Mochary suggests training for and taking a passenger bus driving test.

Mochary now works through his Mochary Foundation, created to help previously incarcerated individuals find jobs and to train the brightest kids in the poorest neighborhoods to be computer programmers.

He began working with inmates at San Francisco County Jail nine months ago and has put eight people through truck driver training, all of whom are fully employed.

Most truck driving schools offer 10-week courses, but Mochary has found schools that can train people in a week. People can start studying for the California DMV commercial drivers written test while still incarcerated and then take the training when out.

Passing the test is not easy and requires many hours of study and taking practice tests, which are included in the materials Mochary provides. Even though it takes hard work and effort, those who are motivated and who put the required time in will have a pretty good chance of passing the test.

The total cost for each participant is about $2,250. The DMV test is $73, the medical exam $80, one week of truck driving school $2,000, and transportation to and from school for a week $100.

Willing to finance training for hundreds of people

Meanwhile, Mochary says he is willing to finance the training of “hundreds of people” but doesn’t want to handle the logistics of the inmates studying the test material and then committing to going to truck driving school.

“I need someone else to get excited about it. I wanted to prove to myself that it could work, and I’ve already done that. I’d like to find a national organization that already exists and have them adopt the program,” he says.

Until Mochary finds that organization he is willing to accept referrals of California jail inmates who are interested in participating, but they would need the support of someone inside the jail or a volunteer organization working there.

That person or organization could print out the study materials that Mochary provides and hand them to the inmate, administer practice exams when ready and then follow up to connect that person with Mochary, so he could sponsor the truck driving school training. The money transfer part can be handled through the service league at each jail.

Mochary has written a short guide on how to administer a California Driver’s Licensing Truck Driving Training Program in jail or prison. As part of a desire to help give “thousands and thousands” of people a second chance, he has generously offered to share his guide and handouts with jail contacts and/or organizations in California to support California referrals. He is also willing to share the information with out-of-state organizations that would like to replicate his program in their own state. Since laws can be different in different states the appropriate local state agencies should be consulted before launching a program.

Anyone who might be interested should contact Mochary at matt@mochary.com.

Things to consider before training to be a trucker

Although many people love the freedom of the road, being a long-haul trucker is not an easy life. It can be lonely and wreak havoc on families and relationships. (Although team driving as a couple may be able to help take care of the relationship problem.)

From our research we learned a few things to pass on:

  • Working for a smaller company can sometimes mean higher pay and an employer that may value its drivers more.
  • Be wary of being an independent contractor, as it can in many cases be a financial nightmare.
  • Depending on where you’d like to live, driving a public bus may be the best option. If not that, a truck driving job which allows you  to come home each day can be better for your personal life and health than being a long-haul truck driver.
  • Not being on the road for extended periods of time will also offer an opportunity to attend night school or other retraining programs in the evenings and on weekends. This is something to consider, since  self-driving trucks may eventually force truckers to consider other career options.

 

 

 

 

Highlighting soft skills can be key to getting a job

soft skillsSoft skills – the personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with others – may be just as important to performing and keeping a job as the technical or job performance related skills for which people are hired.

And many employers agree. In a survey of 2,138 hiring managers and human resource professionals conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder in 2014, 77% of employers felt that soft skills are just as important as hard skills.

“When companies are assessing job candidates, they’re looking for the best of both worlds: someone who is not only proficient in a particular function, but also has the right personality,” said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder.

“Along with responsibilities, it’s important to highlight soft skills that can give employers an idea of how quickly you can adapt and solve problems, whether you can be relied on to follow through, and how effectively you can lead and motivate others.”

Top 10 soft skills that employers consider when evaluating a job candidate

The top 10 most popular soft skills companies say they look for when hiring are that the candidate:

  • has a strong work ethic – 73 percent
  • is dependable – 73 percent
  • has a positive attitude – 72 percent
  • is self-motivated – 66 percent
  • is team-oriented – 60 percent
  • is organized, can manage multiple priorities – 57 percent
  • works well under pressure – 57 percent
  • is an effective communicator – 56 percent
  • is flexible – 51 percent
  • is confident – 46 percent

If you want to know more about the importance of soft skills, just ask Frederick H. Wentz. He’s an expert on the subject and wrote two books used for training people so that they can recognize and develop their soft skills.

Wentz became aware of the need during his years working in the restaurant industry. “I hired a lot of entry level employees, and many came from communities that lacked exposure to soft skills,” he says.

He also worked training people in reentry and noticed that people who have been out of the workforce for a long time had the same problem.

“The biggest challenges (to those in reentry) are making decisions and problem solving. When they’re incarcerated all their decisions are being made by someone else,” he says. “Communication is another difficulty for them. In prison communication is just one way.”

Wentz goes on to say that, “The behaviors that people need to survive in prison are being tough and being intimating, and these are not going to work on the job.”

Four types of soft skills

Instead they need to develop soft skills. Soft skills can be one of four different types, related to:

  • Communication
  • Problem solving
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Personal attributes

As specific examples, Wentz mentions, among other things, being:

  • Able to get along with others
  • Positive
  • Able to control emotions
  • Conscientious
  • Friendly
  • Able to follow instructions

In his book, Soft Skills Training: A Workbook to Develop Skills for Employment, Wentz alternates articles and stories about success with exercises that make students think about the importance of soft skills.

Some examples of the questions from the exercises in the book:

  • What do most entry-level workers lack?
  • In what areas do entry-level employees need the most improvement?
  • Why is it important to reach out and help others while at work?
  • When you do not understand something, what are three positive consequences of asking a question?
  • List five personal qualities you must display on every job.
  • How did Michael Jordan visualize and how did it help him? Give an example of how it can help you.

Job developers who work with those in reentry may find this book a useful tool.

And those looking for work might want to add references to their soft skills in their resume or JIST card. Including things like “meets all deadlines,” “works well in a team environment” and “communicates effectively” will highlight your proficiency in the soft skill arena.

Because employers are convinced of the importance of these skills, make sure you let them know you have them.

 

Richard Bronson created job search engine 70millionjobs.com to help ex-offenders find employment

70millionjobs.com

Richard Bronson

If entrepreneur Richard Bronson had his way, every American with a criminal record would be employed. And he’s created a job search engine to help achieve that goal.

He calls his company 70millionjobs.com, because that’s how many people he says have a criminal record. And one of those people is Bronson himself.

Bronson served 22 months in a federal prison camp for securities fraud committed while running Biltmore Securities, a company he cofounded. Earlier in his career he gained experience working for Stratton Oakmont. Yes, that’s the brokerage firm immortalized in the film, The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Once out of prison he faced what he calls the “daunting task of getting my life back together.” And he knew it wouldn’t be easy. “As long as there’s the Internet, people can find out everything about you. Once you commit a crime, you have a life-long sentence,” he says.

After Bronson got out of prison, he worked for Defy Ventures for a while but left because he wanted to be involved in something scalable. And his idea of something scalable became 70millionjobs.com

“I decided that this huge population should have the same tools for looking for a job that other people without a record have – an indeed.com for ex-offenders,” he says.

“That was my original vision. I felt that the effort was crying out for a for-profit venture, because it could scale. If you have a website you can engage with 10,000 people without it costing too much.”

Bronson formed partnership with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

He launched his business early last year and concentrated on New York, but when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti approached him to create a partnership, he switched his efforts to L.A.

They launched a three-month pilot project on April 3 that allows Los Angeles employers to post an unlimited number of jobs free of charge. Bronson believes that if his company does a good job and delivers a steady stream of applicants, the companies that list with 70millionjobs.com will be willing to pay after the pilot project period is over.

He’s publicizing the site through community-based organizations that provide job readiness programs, which means those applying for employment on 70millionjobs.com are serious about wanting to work.

Applicants will use video resumes to highlight their personalities

Because traditional resumes can be problematical for those in reentry, Bronson is working on creating video resumes for his applicants, which he feels would work better.

“Many of them have no job experience at all. And no one would want to hire them,” he says. “But if you meet them in person, they’re funny, bright and charming people who would be good to come to work at your company.”

Bronson has also created a unique way for his applicants to actually apply for the jobs posted on 70millionjobs.com.

“Our applicants typically don’t have a laptop and a connection to the Internet. But they all, on the other hand, have smart phones. We will be notifying them by SMS alert (text messaging) anytime there’s a new job that might be suitable for their interests. And with one touch, they can apply for that job,” he explains.

Although Bronson is concentrating his efforts on Los Angeles at the moment, he hopes to add more employers in New York and expand to the San Francisco Bay Area by the end of this year.

“L.A. has the largest population of incarcerated people and people with records. It’s the big league,” he says. “We feel that if things go well in Los Angeles, it will give us the entrée to other cities as well and serve as a template for our expansion.“

 

Tattoo removal: The view from a former warden of the Supermax Federal Prison

 

Bob Hood

Bob Hood, former warden of the Supermax Federal Prison.

It’s a mystery to us why there aren’t more pre-release tattoo removal programs. And we’re not the only ones to question this lack of a service that could do so much to help those getting out of prison start a new life.

In a recent interview we found that Bob Hood feels the same way. With 34 years of experience in the corrections field, Hood has played a variety of roles, including being warden of the “Supermax”Federal Prison in Colorado. Supermax is the most secure federal penitentiary in the nation and the place where Al Qaeda terrorists, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, the Unabomber, Cartel leaders and organized crime figures are locked up.

Here’s what Hood had to say (edited for brevity):

From your own experience, how do prisoners view tattoos?

To begin with, about 75% of inmates overall have tattoos. Inside the facility it’s almost like their resume or business card. They’ll either connect with a gang or just have some razor wire around their neck. They make their own tattoos within the prison so they can assimilate, but as they get closer to a pre-release class where they’re looking for a job they think, “Why that was pretty stupid.”

Besides being able to get a job when they get out, why should inmates consider getting their tattoos removed?

Even those in for life can benefit from tattoo removal. You can do (tattoo removal on) a person doing a multi-life sentence who may never see daylight. Maybe the guy looking in the mirror will no longer see the tear drop or “love and hate” on his knuckles. He may never get out but would like to demonstrate that he’s changing. Tattoo removal should be a choice, and it shouldn’t just be for the guys going out the door.

How can you convince them not to get prison tattoos in the first place?

Be proactive and take photos of people and computerize tattoos on them. Then say to the inmate who just came into the prison, “You want to blend in? You want to be tough? Let’s show you what it looks like. You might think about it. You may not want to get the tattoos. What are the good things you want to retain, and one of them would be a visible-tattoo-free body.”

You refer to tattoo removal as the missing piece of the reentry puzzle. Is anything being done to bring that piece into play?

People are realizing you can’t keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. Even the old school is saying, “Hey, we have to do something different.” Tattoo removal was never part of the puzzle. The correction system says you get the guy through assessment and tell them they have to get their GED, do the classes, study alternatives to violence. But at the end of the day, you’re going to have a harder time if you have the ugliness of socially unacceptable tattoos. People are taking all the courses, but if they go into a normal work environment and have KKK on their forehead, it will stop them from getting a job.

How can correctional facilities be encouraged to establish pre-release tattoo-removal programs?

All local, state, and federal correctional institutions have Admission & Orientation (A&O) programs for new inmates (names for the program may vary). Prior to release, institutions have some form of pre-release programming. Correctional administrators should be encouraged to include information about tattoo removal programs in existing A&O and pre-release curriculum. Specific action steps for administrators may include:

  • Providing a sample lesson plan on the topic of tattoo removal.
  • Offer relevant statistical information and testimonies.
  • Identify current pre-release programs as models.
  • Determine what companies offer tattoo removal in their geographic area.
  • Offer names of national companies (like Quanta) that are supporting the movement to remove visible tattoos.
  • Suggest what location within their agency to start a pilot program (medical institution, release center, etc.).
  • Provide a cost analysis (average cost of individual tattoo removal compared to other release programs).
  • Describe the benefits of removing visible tattoos for offenders not scheduled to release soon (as part of their gang management/behavior control strategy).
  • Don’t just push pre-release value of tattoo removal. Removing tattoos from long-term offenders is just as valuable for their transformation within the prison environment.
In practical terms, how would you carry out tattoo removal procedures?

No warden says their top concern is tattoo removal, because it’s so simplistic, but they could have a commitment from dermatologists in the area. Tell them, “You have the equipment, could you commit to three people per year that you would do tattoo removal procedures for free? It would be good p.r. for the doctor.

Also, if it were my prison, I’d make it part of the system. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has an Inmate Financial Responsibility Program. Some of it goes home, some of it goes for Twinkies and some of it should go to taking off those tattoos. From the money that inmates get by working on various vocational programs or whatever, they might put down 10% towards the cost of getting their tattoos off, and the government would pay the rest.

As far as the prisons are concerned, we have to show the value. If it costs X for tattoo removal, it will cost 50X to pay for those who come back to prison.

But something no one can debate is when you take before-and-after photos of an inmate with tattoos, and ask, “Do you think it’s better that this person has tattoos on their face and arms?” You can’t debate it. It’s the least expensive program of all, and it’s one that we just have not tried.

 

New Beginners Job Search Handbook offers unique tips to ex-offender job seekers

New Beginnings Job Search Handbook

Ken Bailor

Think you’ve heard it all when it comes to job search tips for previously incarcerated job seekers?

We did too, but we learned a few new things from Ken Bailor, the reentry services coordinator for Riverside County (Calif.) ReEntry Services, part of the county’s economic development agency.

During the past 11 years, he has presented job search workshops to more than 25,000 people incarcerated at four of Riverside County’s five correctional facilities.

Bailor calls his students “new beginners,” who by his definition seek to put the past – along with attitudes, actions and negative behavior that led to their incarceration – far behind them, so they can achieve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual success in life.

And to educate them, Bailor developed the New Beginners Job Search Handbook. It offers a step-by-step process that can lead to a new beginning in the lives of those in reentry, as well as a few unique ideas.

Along with resume writing and interview tips, the handbook offers tips on how to improve one’s attitude and approach to life, as well as ability to look for work.

Talking positively

He includes a chart on how to reframe what people need to say to make it positive.

  • For example, instead of this:

“I just got out of jail and need a job.”

  • Tell the hiring manager:

“Jail was a wake-up call for me. I learned new things about myself and my life. I completed my GED and developed new skills. I’m ready to prove that I can be a productive employee.”

Because what people say and how they say it is so important, the handbook includes a vocabulary list for successful New Beginners. It recommends using green flag words like “I can” instead of red flag words like “I can’t.” “I take action” instead of “I should.” “And” instead of “but,” etc.

Understanding the impression you might make

One section of the handbook analyzes what an employer would think about certain behavior or actions when completing a job application, creating a resume or during a job interview that will help students become more aware of how they might come across.

Putting together a personal commercial

Bailor divides jobs into four families – those concerned with ideas, things, people and data – and includes an extensive list of words defining personal assets related to those types of jobs. Using those assets and words for skills chosen from another list, job seekers can put together what he calls a personal commercial and what others might refer to as an elevator pitch.

Also included are a practice application and resume worksheet and examples of different types of resumes and cover letters, as well as advice on where to look for jobs and a job fair attendance checklist. In addition, there’s a list of interview questions, how to explain a felony conviction and information about expungement, certificates of rehabilitation and pardons.

How the handbook is used

Although the book is a self-teaching tool, Bailor and three volunteers take it into the facilities and do a basic introduction. The inmates go through all the exercises, and when they’re finished contact Bailor who asks them an interview question and administers an open-book test. A week later he returns for a closed book final and those who pass receive a certificate.

When they’re about to be released Bailor tells them, ”If you go after those jobs the same way you went after drugs, you’ll be successful. And when you get out, do three things – call your ride, talk to probation and call me.” Only about 10% of the people who leave actually call him, but for those that do he has some solid advice.

He tells his New Beginners:

  • Look forward not back to the troubles you’ve had.
  • Stay positive and find resources. Be proactive.
  • Don’t rely on the jobs that are on the Internet. Visit employers. Tell them about yourself and drop off a resume or JIST card. If you don’t hear back from them in a week, call again. Eventually someone will hire you.
  • Go out and talk to people. Some of the best jobs you’ll find out about are through people in your AA and NA meetings.
  • Stay away from the old places and things, and find new beginnings.

You may view the latest edition of the New Beginners Job Search Handbook, which is included as a resource on Ken Bailor’s Jerry Jobseeker’s Resources website.

 

Group of Kentucky friends creates free tattoo-removal program for ex-offenders

Tattoo Removal Ink

Armando Diaz of Astanza Laser’s New Look Laser College trains Tattoo Removal Ink volunteers to do tattoo removal procedures.

Thanks to the free and low-cost tattoo removal program directory on our website, we’ve been in touch with quite a few people who provide this service.

But rarely have we come across a story quite like that of Jo Martin of Florence, Ky. She rallied a group of friends, got them all to learn how to use a laser device and started Tattoo Removal Ink, a free tattoo removal service, all within the space of a year.

Now it’s up and running – the group performed 100 free procedures from mid-January to mid-February, their first month in business. And she’s still a bit in awe about how it all came about.

Three-and-a-half years ago after retiring from a 30-year career with AT&T and still dealing with the sudden death of her husband several years before that, Martin was approached by a woman at her church and asked if she’d like to tutor at the local jail.

“I wanted to say no, but yes came out of my mouth,” she says. At first it was rather daunting. “I was never exposed to that kind of environment and had never even been inside of a jail.”

Once she began volunteering, Martin was shocked to see the tattoos on some of the inmates and thought, “How could they get a job with those tattoos on their face?” She mentioned it to a friend, and that friend encouraged her to go hear Father Greg Boyle, the Jesuit priest who heads up Homeboy Industries and who was speaking at a university not too far away.

Inspired by Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries

She approached Father Boyle after his speech, and he invited her to come to Los Angeles to check out Homeboy, and she did. ”I fell in love with what Father Boyle was doing and said we could do it too,” she says.

Martin went home, put together a board, and filed the articles of incorporation and the application to be a nonprofit. Within 35 days it had been approved. Her daughter’s mother-in-law, a doctor, agreed to be the medical director.

A deeply religious woman who attends mass everyday, Martin feels it’s the work of God. “Every time I said to God that I’d done something, he gave me an even bigger thing. It all just started falling into place.”

She took some of the insurance proceeds from her husband’s death and bought a $60,000 laser device. (Astanza Laser gave her a $15,000 discount on one of its machines.) A doctor friend and his wife, a nurse, along with another nurse agreed to join the board. She also got a CPA to volunteer.

Martin put Tattoo Removal Ink together on her own with friends and family

“Along the way I met with a whole bunch of agencies in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky – all people who deal with returning citizens,” Martin says. “Everybody loved the idea, but nobody wanted anything to do with it. I just did it on my own with friends and family and my husband’s money. He would have loved it.”

She gathered her group of two doctors, two nurses, two other friends and herself together, adopted the name Tattoo Removal Ink, and in early January a representative of Astanza Laser’s New Look Laser College arrived to conduct a two-day training course. Soon after that, they began their first official procedures in a 900 square-foot rented office space.

Service is by appointment only and comes through referrals from the jail, parole and probation, and inquiries on their website, which have dramatically increased thanks to publicity from a local television news story. The criteria for clients is that they must have been formerly incarcerated, and their tattoos must be on the face, neck or sometimes on an arm – if the person has a construction job and will wear T-shirts in the summertime.

Plans for pre-release tattoo removal programs in local prisons

The program is up and running, but the fundraising is still in the works. Expenses include $1,000 per month for rent, $600 per year for insurance and $6,000 per year for maintenance on the laser device (starting next year).

Board members have chipped in money for the rent and $10,000 for operations. Another board member donated $1,000, and other people have written checks for $250 here and there, says Martin. The hospital of one of the doctors on her board donated a treatment table.

Martin has applied for $5,000 grants from each of her three local counties and is planning to search for other grant opportunities.

By the end of the year she hopes to begin tattoo removals inside the jail where she volunteers. And one of her grade school classmates, who learned about the program through Facebook, plans to retire and be a laser technician at the jail.

The next step is to get lasers inside the area’s two other correctional facilities and start a GED program at the building where Tattoo Removal Ink operates. That way people can study for the GED and get their tattoos removed at the same time and place, which appeals to Martin who tutors inmates so they can pass the GED.

While she originally was hesitant to even enter a jail, working with inmates and returning citizen’s tattoos has become Martin’s passion and new purpose in life.

“This has been so much fun. I love project managing it. And I love the people we’ve been taking tattoos off of,” she says.

New York City mayor commits to offering all those leaving city jails transitional employment

In an endeavor never tried before by a major city, New York Mayor Bill de BlasioNew York mayor has created an initiative that will offer everyone leaving the city’s jails a short-term job upon release, as well as additional services while incarcerated.

It may take years to realize what effect this will have on recidivism, but it’s certainly a start.

In an announcement made late last month, the mayor said that by the end of 2017, everyone incarcerated in city jails will meet with a counselor on their first day in and will have access to five hours of vocational, educational and therapeutic training daily during their stay.

“Everyone deserves a second chance. We’re working to break the cycle of returning to jail for those in city custody by making sure they have opportunities to learn and grow while in jail, and connecting them with the re-entry services to support a pathway to stability when they leave,” said de Blasio when the program was announced.

And when they do leave, they will have a job to go to and support to help them prepare for reentry.

New York City’s Jails to Jobs program offers transitional employment opportunities

As part of the city’s Jails to Jobs program, each prisoner, after serving their sentence, will receive short-term transitional employment that is designed to help them secure a long-term job. According to research evaluating the Center for Employment Opportunities Transitional Jobs Program, gaining transitional employment can help reduce recidivism by as much as 22 percent.

In order to further help those recently released from prison get their lives together, a new health program will pair them with a formerly incarcerated peer, a so-called peer navigator who is stabilized.

In addition to being able to take advantage of these new programs, 500 people who leave city jails each year will still have access to educational subsidies they can use for classes and programs at the City University of New York. Participating in these classes and programs can lead toward a certificate or other credentials that will help participants secure employment.

While these are noble efforts, they aren’t being carried out by the city government alone. de Blasio’s office is working with the New York City Diversion and Re-Entry Council, an organization made up of more than 100 leaders from throughout the criminal justice system, including city government agencies, district attorneys, members of the faith community and formerly incarcerated individuals.

 

Humboldt County (Calif.) works with Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation on Humboldt Second Chance Program

Humboldt Second ChanceIn the far northern reaches of California, in a rural coastal area known for its redwood forests, local county officials are working with Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation to help formerly incarcerated individuals get jobs.

Taking advantage of a $400,000 grant from the state’s Workforce Development Board, Humboldt County has launched the Humboldt Second Chance Program (H2CP).

The Employment Training Division of the Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services operates the program, and here’s how it works.

Set up as a series of seven-member cohorts, Humboldt Second Chance trains each cohort for specific types of jobs. Participants are referred from the probation office and after a screening and assessment go through a two-week training focusing on work readiness and expectations.

“We have a lot of younger folks now who may have never even worked. We’re trying to help them understand the rules of the game,” says Connie Lorenzo, employment training division program manager.

“Sometimes they don’t understand how to apply for a job or what’s expected in a job. We also get into time management and conflict management, as well as some of the things they might have issues with, like how to accept authority.”

Program includes two months of vocational training

The next step is vocational training, which lasts for two months. Participants work 25 hours per week, and their salaries are fully funded by the program. Most of the people are trained in construction, but some are doing office work, medical assisting and one has done horticultural training.

That’s as far as program participants have gotten so far, but one group is ready to move on.

“We have 13 people who will graduate out of the vocational training and work experience,” Lorenzo says “The next phase is to get them hired into a permanent position. We have staff willing to help with the job development and placing them, and we will pay 50 percent of their wage for the first four to six months.

Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation works with employers

Now that the Humboldt Second Chance Program has begun to train potential employees, what about the employers? And that’s where Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation comes in.

“The unique thing we did in Humboldt was because we only have 105,000 people and not a lot of industry, we had to recruit multiple employers to the program. We focused our grant not only on the ex-offenders but on employers as well,” says Lorenzo

In January her department held an employer event with a representative of Dave’s Killer Bread to educate employers on second chance employment.

It recruited 12 businesses that day and eight more since then. Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation will work directly with employers as a consultant offering one-on-one support to companies that want to hire people from the second chance program, according to Lorenzo.

“At the event we took the info we use in our summits and our work and showed them how it’s possible to make this (hiring previously incarcerated individuals) work,” says Genevieve Martin, executive director of the Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation. “It’s a great pipeline of candidates to look at.”

The foundation is now following up with those employers to see what kind of opportunities they have and to point them toward potential candidates.

This is the first time that DKB Foundation has done anything quite like this, but Martin hopes it won’t be the last.

“We’ve worked with other organizations before, but this is the first time we’ve partnered on a grant to deliver programs with strategic initiatives to the host organization,” Martin says. “Being able to partner with (an organization with) a more local approach is exciting, because that’s where we can make a difference.”

Plan to train 72 people

And Martin has her work cut out for her. Lorenzo says that the grant stated that they hope to train 72 people and get at least 45 of those employed full time. She says, however, they’re on target with between 40 and 50 people referred by probation thus far and is convinced they’ll succeed.

Although Lorenzo, in her position with Humboldt County, serves a lot of different types of clients, she’s especially impressed with those coming out of prison

“One thing I’ve found is that when ex-offenders are ready to transition their lives, they’re a very strong population to work with,” she says.

 

Brooklyn-based Refoundry trains ex-offenders to create home furnishings out of discarded materials

Refoundry

Refoundry participant Dexter Nurse; Refoundry entreprenuers Gene Manigo/Kambui, Custom Craft, and James L Eleby Jr., Eleby Designs. (Photo by Christina Maida.)

Although there are other programs that teach formerly incarcerated individuals entrepreneurial skills, Refoundry takes a slightly different approach. This Brooklyn-based not-for-profit has trained its pilot project participants to create home furnishings out of discarded materials and learn how to sell them.

Although they may have felt discarded by society, participants become confident that they, like the furniture they create, have value and purpose.

“Everybody’s got creativity, and working with our hands is one of the things that define us as human beings. Building things is in our DNA,” says Tommy Safian, the organization’s co-founder and executive director.

“When participants are giving discarded material new value they feel like they’re giving themselves new value as well. It’s very personal. When they send these things out into the world and people who may have formerly looked down on them purchase and bring them into their homes, it makes our participants feel valued.”

Formerly incarcerated individuals display incredible talent

“We’re providing opportunities. A lot of people coming out of prison have an incredible amount of talent,” he says. And Refoundry’s pilot project has taken five of those people, taught them woodworking and entrepreneurial skills.

It may be a not-for-profit, but Safian, who previously had a business collecting furniture from the trash in L.A., refurbishing and selling it, runs Refoundry like a business. He has high expectations of the participants and funnels the profits made from the furniture sold by them back into their training.

Safian doesn’t recruit participants straight out of prison but rather finds those who are already being served by reentry organizations and set up in programs, including the anger management and addiction counseling programs required by the state of New York.

“We’re looking for people who are ambitious, who understand their role, who are willing to learn and who take personal and professional responsibility,” he says.

For the first nine months participants learn how to create furniture from discarded materials and are taught the customer service and entrepreneurial skills needed to sell the pieces they create at the weekly Brooklyn Flea (flea market).

Once trained, participants may go out and start their own business, which four of those in the organization’s pilot project have already done.

Building community

Safian tells a story that exemplifies what Refoundry is trying to achieve. One participant who sold a table to a couple at the flea market had been in prison for 30 years for murder. When he delivered the piece, the customers invited him and his wife to dinner to christen the table.

“Our model is designed to make those types of connections and open up the space so that people can meet on common ground and recognize each other as individuals,” he says.

“In our program the transaction happens hand-to-hand and face-to-face. People have stereotypical and denigrating opinions of each other, but within the space of that transaction, they develop empathy, understanding and common values, and these develop community.”

Refoundry plans expansion

Refoundry now takes up a unit at the Brooklyn Navy Yard but plans to expand by adding more units and possible satellite locations. Safian also said that organizations in 12 states are interested in bringing the model to their communities.

The organization is currently establishing a campus at the Navy Yard, which is expected be ready by the end of the year. It will have wrap around services and a classroom. Columbia Business School will teach financial literacy, the School of Visual Arts will provide design and Pratt Institute will teach web design. Community partner Shake Shack will provide hospitality training and offer participants short-term “Internships” at one of its outlets.

Because he realizes that not everyone has the skills or desire to run their own business, Safian also plans to train people in bookkeeping and sales and marketing so that they can be placed in jobs in Refoundry’s partner organizations. These skills will also help those who launch their own enterprises.

Embrace your story

Whether Refoundry participants start their own business or work for someone else, however, Safian urges them to share their story.

“We encourage our participants to embrace their story and use that in marketing their pieces. There’s a huge amount of talent in New York, and what distinguishes them is the story that they tell,” he says

“Embracing your story with a narrative that’s positive for them and has meaning for others is what’s going to help those coming out of prison find a job.”