Gatekeepers founder Bill Gaertner launches mentoring program for ex-offender job seekers

Bill Gaertner

Bill Gaertner

Bill Gaertner, founder and director of Gatekeepers in Hagerstown Md., will soon launch a mentoring program that recruits members of the local faith community to work with citizens returning to the area from jails and prisons.

A former basketball coach at Norwich University and University of Connecticut, Gaertner was incarcerated late in life.

“I went into prison at the age of 61 for domestic violence and being an alcoholic. I imploded. While I was there I relied on all the tools of coaching and playing college athletics to get through, and then I got a chance to start a new life here,” he says.

When released, Gaertner committed his life to helping others who, like him, had spent time behind bars. He does this through his organization, Gatekeepers, whose stated mission is to motivate, empower and encourage ex-offenders. The organization achieves this through its Job Readiness Training Program, which is based on what Gaertner calls the “business of living.”

“We failed the business of living by going into the penal system,” he says. “Each person has the opportunity to start their own life business. Every day we look at our lives educationally, occupationally and personally. Every day we have to get smarter, get better at our jobs and be better people.”

In the program, participants are taught civics, speaking skills and anger management. They can join the Gatekeepers job club, which works with employers, parole and probation, and social service agencies. Over the past 2-1/2 years, 80 to 90 men have gotten starter jobs as a result.

Gatekeepers expands its I Got a Job Club

The next step is in the works. The I Got a Job Club, which has been a pilot project with three reentering citizens, will expand into a full-fledged program in March.

Gaertner plans to launch with eight to 12 people in reentry who have already gotten entry-level work. For the most part they’re pre-selected by Kairos Prison Ministry from the facilities in which it works.

“We get these guys identified while they’re still in prison. They’re being mentored by Kairos. We give them the initial services. But then they fall off the grid. They can keep their job for a while but they can’t stay straight. These people need coaches. They need people in their lives or it doesn’t work,” Gaertner says.

Those coaches will be volunteers from the faith-based community and from every walk of life, including some company owners.

They will meet together on alternate Saturday mornings at a local church. The two-hour sessions will begin with an explanation of the business of living concept, and individuals will give updates on where they are since they’ve gotten a job. After that introduction an expert will talk to them about a different subject each meeting, and then the group will break up for one-on-one or two-one-one mentoring.

Mentors are disciples, good listeners and friends

“I like to call it coaching. We say you’ve got a life coach,” Gaertner says. “I get them ready for mentoring (coaching). A mentor is a disciple, a good listener and a friend. He’s not going to give you legal advice. He’s not going to give you cash.”

The mentors are trained using a 20-page manual outlining their responsibilities and duties. Gaertner says that it’s almost like a 12-step program with a sponsor, which he refers to as an accountability partner.

Although starting small, he hopes to build the program to help meet the challenges that those returning to his county face. “In this detention center here in Hagerstown, there are 370 inmates and a 70% recidivism rate,” he says.

“There are a lot of good programs in the prisons but when they leave they leave all that behind.”

Gaertner and Gatekeepers are working hard to ensure that at least some of those leaving prison won’t themselves be left behind, as they learn to engage in the business of life.


Defy Ventures expands CEO of Your New Life program

Entrepreneurs-in-Training at California State Prison-Solano in Vacaville, Calif.

Entrepreneurs-in-Training at California State Prison-Solano in Vacaville, Calif.

Defy Ventures, a New York City-headquartered nonprofit that provides entrepreneurship, employment and character training to people in re-entry, is expanding its new initiative, CEO of Your New Life.

The program, which began last summer, takes the organization’s work into prisons and jails, working with incarcerated men and women to provide the knowledge and skills that will help ensure their re-entry will be more successful and less traumatic than it would be without them.

Launched in California State Prison-Solano in Vacaville, Calif., and the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno, Calif., in July, CEO of Your Own Life also operates in Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie, NY, and Wallkill Correctional Facility in Wallkill, NY. Defy also plans to launch the program in New Jersey’s Essex County jail system.

Here’s how it works. Forget the label inmate, prisoner or whatever. A participant is known as an Entrepreneur-in-Training (EIT), and the instruction has been created as a 10-step series designed to be administered over a 10-week period, although it could vary depending on the institution. Ideally, there will be two video-recorded courses with three hours of instruction time four days per week.

EITs also keep a Defy Journal in which they complete assignments and reflect on their thoughts and self-discoveries as they progress through the program.

The curriculum focuses on job readiness, entrepreneurship, tech basics, personal finance, etiquette, character development and re-entry planning. The faculty who have created the videos include formerly incarcerated individuals, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, Harvard and Stanford professors, and top career coaches, as well as character development experts.

In addition to the instruction, Defy hosts a couple of events per cohort within each facility where it operates CEO of Your New Life. These usually include a business night when it brings in professionals to do interviews and help with resumes, as well as a business pitch competition for those who are interested in starting their own businesses upon release.

One of these competitions took place at the California State Prison-Solano on December 17, with the top five finalists receiving prizes of between $100 and $500 that they will be able to collect upon release.

Overall, successful participants are expected to experience one or more of three likely outcomes. They will be able to:

  • gain the confidence, learn goal setting and create a vision to run their own business and secure financing to make it happen.
  • receive the assistance, coaching and training they need to create resumes, develop interview and communication skills, and effectively use email to secure meaningful employment.
  • transform themselves through personal growth in areas that include character development, parenting, self-discipline, relationships, and dealing with guilt and shame.

After release, participants can continue involvement with Defy Ventures by contacting the organization within seven days of leaving prison or jail. By doing so, they can take advantage of employment resources and further assistance in launching their new lives.

But those just coming out or prison or jail aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of what Defy has to offer. Anyone with previous criminal justice involvement may apply for a free five-month scholarship to participate in the organization’s program, which is dedicated to helping those with various levels of experience and education.

Defy’s post-release employment program offers three tiers of service, depending on the need of the individual:

  1. Tier One is for those who have education and previous work experience. It is known as guided self-help and provides job leads and referrals to other agencies and a weekly review of the participant’s progress.
  2. Tier Two offers short-term support with group or one-on-one counseling for those with barriers to employment, whether a low level of education or lack of sufficient work history. They receive job readiness and retention skills training and vocational counseling.
  3. Tier Three provides long-term support with one-on-one intervention and the services offered in Tier Two, as well as job placement resources.


What makes a good prison library

0-1At Jails to Jobs we realize the importance of inmates getting access to job search information so they’ll be ready to hit the pavement upon release.

And one way to get that information is by spending time in the library of the facility where they are incarcerated.

In order to help serve those inmates, we’ve begun a campaign to get our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, into every prison library in the U.S.

But what makes a good prison library and how do they help incarcerated people prepare for success on the outside?

We thought we’d ask Brandy Buenafe, principal librarian of the Office of Correctional Education, Division of Rehabilitative Programs of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Here’s what she had to say:

Do you have any idea of what percentage of prisons in the U.S. have libraries?

I am not familiar with the entire United States. I know here in California all of the state prisons have libraries, some more than one. There are 35 institutions in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and 125 libraries.

What is the goal of a prison library?

Our goal is to provide an accurate source of unbiased information, including updated reference and legal resources. We also provide fiction and non-fiction reading books.

What makes a good prison library?

I think when the library is perceived by custody, staff and inmates as fulfilling the above goals, it is a good library. I am also encouraged by our libraries that offer additional literacy support, such as book clubs, essay contests and reading reward programs.

How do librarians evaluate the books that go into their libraries?

Books are evaluated by several pieces of criteria, including a list of disapproved titles, the reading needs and desires of the population, and several mandates including percentages of fiction and non-fiction.

How much emphasis is given on job search info in prison libraries?

CDCR libraries include many pieces of self-help information, including resume writing and successful re-entry. We are also part of the Division of Rehabilitative Programs, which has a Community Re-entry Office.

What do prison librarians do to encourage the use of the library among the inmates?

(They sponsor) contests, and do marketing (both word of mouth and on inmate television). The contests are generally around designing a bookmark or writing an essay or poem. Rewards range from certificates of completion to special food items, such as soda pop.

How do you think prison libraries can be improved?

That’s a really good question. We are focusing on recruiting more staff, as there is historically a high vacancy rate. We are highlighting the safe working environment, excellent pay and benefits, and opportunity to impact the lives of individuals and society. We are also often behind the 8 ball when it comes to technology, but in California that is just a matter of time. Now that we will be offering in-person college courses in our institutions, our libraries will need to improve their database offerings, and I’m confident we can do so.

If any readers know of a prison librarian who would like to receive a complimentary copy of our book for their library, please tell them to contact us.


Career Coaches take job search help to all corners of Tennessee

One of three Career Coaches operated by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

One of three Career Coaches operated by the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development.

What is it about Tennessee and job search buses, and why don’t more places follow its lead?

When writing about Memphis Public Library’s JobLINC: Mobile Bus for Job Seekers and Employers recently, we also discovered that the entire state is covered by mobile One-Stop-type units that reach remote rural corners of Tennessee, as well as jails, prisons and homeless shelters.

The program is known as Career Coach – as in bus but also as in career counselor. And the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development operates three buses that cover the entire state.

The story of the Career Coach goes way back to the 1970s with a mobile unit that only lasted for a short time. But the information about it remained in the department’s files so no one would forget. And they didn’t. In 2011, the department applied for – and was granted – funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to buy three buses and outfit them to reach as many job seekers as possible.

The buses are like RVs, and each one has 10 laptops, a network printer, fax machine and copier, a 42” flat-screen TV with SmartBoard overlay, and a DVD/CD player, as well as high-speed satellite Internet. The Career Coaches also have career specialists who can help people with resumes and other things they need to do to get ready for job interviews.

Each bus is stationed in a different part of the state – one in Knoxville, another in Nashville and the third in Huntington in West Tennessee.

“We have made it an extension of our brick-and-mortar American Job Center,” said Nicholas Bishop, director grants and special projects of the Tennessee Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development, which oversees the Career Coach program. “We take the buses to prisons and jails. Even though they may be in a metro area that has access to a career center, the inmates may have restraints going to those centers,” he said.

Last month the three units combined provided service to 1,031 people at 73 events in 40 different Tennessee counties. Thanks to the use of backpacks with computers, mobile printers and Wi-Fi, the department can have two events going on at the same time.

Inside a Career Coach.

Inside one of the career coaches operated by the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development.

“We’re kind of like the job squad,” said Bishop.

Chambers of commerce, churches, county jails and organizations can request a visit by a Career Coach online. Events are publicized by the organizations, as well as through Facebook, Twitter and email blasts to everyone in the area who is registered in the database. They’ve had anywhere from 10 to 200 people at an event.

The Career Coaches also go to jails and prisons five to 10 times per month and work with probation and parole offices. And last July, the department got all three units certified as testing sites for the HiSET (High School Equivalency Test).

“The problem we have in Tennessee is a lot of people who lack the high school credential don’t have convenient access to a testing site,” said Bishop. Inmates might take classes in jail but would have to be bussed two hours to take the test. “The mobile units are testing sites, and our team can go into a county jail facility and convert it into a testing site for the day.”

In April, the department administered the high school exam to 80 people, and 55 of those were incarcerated. “We hope that we can help rehabilitate inmates while they’re incarcerated and keep them from going back to jail,” Bishop said.

On some occasions the Career Coach career specialists offer workshops on resume writing, interviewing and basic computer skills. “We do them if an organization requests it but also provide one-on-one services for people who need help with resumes and other things,” he said.

In addition, company recruiters occasionally come on board. “They’ll interview people and do the drug screening right on the bus, and several people have been offered a job right on the spot,” Bishop said.

Not too long ago, the Career Coach went to Dickson near Nashville to begin recruiting employees for Dal-Tile’s newest manufacturing plant. The company not only concentrated on interviewing prospective employees but provided an info session for the community to get ready for the plant’s opening early next year. And it proved that the Career Coach can be used in many ways.

Other states are you listening?


Jails to Jobs launches books to prison libraries program

prison librariesThanks to funding from a generous donor, Jails to Jobs has launched a new campaign to get its book, Jails to Jobs; Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, in the library of every jail and prison in the U.S. And we’re asking you to help us.

A lofty goal? Maybe. Impossible? We’ll see.

But one thing we’re sure of. Hiring formerly incarcerated people is a crucial step in helping prevent recidivism, and many of those who have been in prison must put extra effort into preparing for the job search process.

More than 700,000 people leave U.S. federal and state prisons each year, and within three years 40 percent are right back in.

The book we’ve written is a practical step-by-step guide to finding a job, geared towards people with criminal records. We’re convinced that those who follow the recommended steps will be well prepared to face the unique challenges they are likely to confront.

They’ll know when to use a JIST card instead of a resume. They’ll know where to find tattoo-removal programs for those anti-social or gang-related tattoos – job stoppers as they’re sometimes called. And they’ll know how to use a turnaround talk and turnaround packet to show that they’re not the same person now that they were when they committed whatever crime put them in prison in the first place.

So back to our goal of getting our book into every prison and jail in the U.S.

We estimate that there are:

  • 1,800 state and federal correctional facilities
  • 3,200 local and county jails

We’re compiling a list of all of them and have already started to get the word out.

Although our goal is to get just a single copy of the book into every prison and jail, one California facility has already asked for four copies.

Will you join us? Each book sells for $14,95, and you can choose which prison or jail to send it to, if you’d like. You may also donate it in honor of someone’s memory or someone who was previously incarcerated and is now successfully working on the outside. To donate, please visit our website.


Memphis Public Library bus offers unique service to job seekers

IMG_8898While many libraries around the country have special programs and services for job seekers, none can quite compare to the Memphis Public Library & Information Center’s mobile job search center.

Its JobLINC: Mobile Bus for Job Seekers and Employers gained the library the distinction as the 2014 Top Innovator in the economic and workforce development category, an award given by the Urban Libraries Council. And for good reason.

The library operates a 38-foot bus with 10 computer stations for job seekers and a station for recruiters who come on board. Patrons can work on resumes with help from librarians and take advantage of the online databases and computerized and hard copy reference materials.

“We go into the community to meet the people where they are,” says Robyn Stone, manager of the Memphis Public Library & Information Center’s JobLINC Services.

Although the program celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, the current bus is only about two years old. The library received a grant of $300,000 from the Plough Foundation to build and sustain the vehicle, which along with the computer workstations, has solar panels to allow it to operate without the use of a loud generator.

“The grant covered everything – the bus, furniture, books and safety equipment. It also left us with sustaining funds for programming as well as money to purchase other books and materials,” Stone said.

JobLINC travels to a variety of places that range from homeless shelters and grocery stores to apartment complexes, churches and community agencies. One of its busiest sites is DeafConnect of the Mid-South, Inc., which it visits once a month. The bus even goes to elementary schools for career days.

It operates between three and five days per week, usually from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and last year served between 6,000 and 7,000 people. That number includes attendees at the annual job fair held at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

JobLINC partners with organizations that include Tennessee Career Coach, a mobile career center operated by the Tennessee Department of Labor, which it did a joint session with this month at a men’s shelter.

Employers, who sometimes come onboard to recruit workers, have included the Veterans Administration, temporary employment agencies, Toys ‘R Us and Sears.

The bus also serves as a mobile classroom that can handle classes and workshops for up to 10 people.

The JobLINC program is an extension of the Library Information Center, a 211 agency that provides community and government information. The librarians who work in the program are Information & Referral Specialists, certified by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems, a nonprofit professional membership association.

In addition to the bus, JobLINC produces a blog with job postings and also puts on a yearly well-attended job fair.

For more information, visit JobLINC.


Back on Track LA receives Second Chance Act funding

Graphic courtesy Johnson County Justice Center, Iowa City, Iowa.

Graphic courtesy Johnson County Justice Center, Iowa City, Iowa.

The California Attorney General’s Office has been awarded nearly $750,000 in federal grant funds for Back on Track LA, a recidivism reduction pilot program. The program is one of only four in the nation to receive the funding, granted through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Second Chance Act.

Back on Track LA, being developed by the California Department of Justice, has been designed to deliver critical educational and comprehensive re-entry services pre- and post-release.

It will build on the L.A. Sheriff Department’s Education Based Incarceration Program by working in partnership with several educational institutions. One of these, the Five Keys Charter School – established in 2003 in San Francisco as the nation’s first charter school to operate within a county jail and now with a site in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department – will be geared towards those without a high-school diploma or GED.

Others, Los Angeles Mission College and Los Angeles Trade-Technical College in the Los Angeles Community College District and College of the Canyons in the Santa Anita Community College District, will provide higher education opportunities that include prerequisites for community college degrees, credentials and certificates.

Among other partners are the Ford Foundation, Rosenberg Foundation, California Community Foundation, California Wellness Foundation and the California Endowment.

Program participants – non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual crime offenders between 18 and 30 years old who are incarcerated in the LASD jail system – will be enrolled in the Back on Track LA pilot program for 24 to 30 months. Twelve to18 of these months will be while they are in custody and 12 months while out of custody.

“As the largest Probation Department in the nation, we are pleased to partner in the Back on Track LA program which will allow us to have further impact on the transition of inmates back in to the community by offering case management services directly inside the custody setting such as cognitive behavioral therapy and other mental health services,” said L.A.’s Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers when the announcement was made late last month. “Upon release, the probation team will also be able to assist in linking inmates to additional services in the community.”

The Second Chance Act, signed into law in 2008, provides funds to improve outcomes for those previously incarcerated as they reintegrate into their communities. Through a competitive grant process, this legislation authorizes federal grants to government and nonprofit agencies working to reduce recidivism by those returning to local communities from prison, jails and juvenile facilities.

Back on Track LA follows in the footsteps of a San Francisco program with the same name created in 2005 by former San Francisco District Attorney and current California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Developed for certain low-level, non-violent drug offenders, it reduced recidivism among its graduates to less than 10 percent over a two-year period.

In November 2013, Attorney General Harris also established the California Division of Recidivism Reduction and Re-Entry, an office designed to curb recidivism in the state by partnering with counties and district attorneys on best practices and policy initiatives.

The new division is tasked with the development of a statewide definition of recidivism, identifying grants to fund the creation and expansion of innovative anti-recidivism programs and using technology to facilitate more effective data analysis and recidivism metrics.


Job club can help put those in reentry on path to employment

iStock_000023019685_SmallA job club is an excellent way to help those coming out of prison or jail as they embark on a path to employment. These clubs meet regularly, offering members a chance to discuss the challenges they face in their job search and hold each other accountable.

Job clubs can be particularly beneficial for those in reentry. Few may know this better than Sue Eastman, who developed a job club for that population for SE Works, a Portland, Ore., nonprofit that deals with workforce development. As Portland’s only workforce center serving those in reentry, the organization gets a lot of foot traffic, including people from a local halfway house.

Eastman’s organization’s job club meets four times per week, and members must come to at least two of the meetings. Between 10 and 30 people show up at each one, which lasts from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Employers also come to the meetings on occasion to talk about job searching and do mock interviews. Such nearby businesses as a new store may also come to hire employees.

What makes it different

Eastman started the job club two years ago and says, “It’s not that different from other job clubs, except for  learning to deal with “the box.” (the box on application forms asking if the applicant has ever been convicted). But actually it is different in many ways.

Those who have been locked up for long periods may not be proficient with such technology as computers and cell phones that is essential for many jobs, for example.

Eastman had inherited a curriculum, but it was old and referred to people as ex-felons. “I try to get people to not look backward but to look forward,” she says. “You can’t call them ex-felons. Call them job seekers.”

Although she has moved to a new position, Eastman still sometimes leads SE Works’ job club. At the beginning of each meeting she asks them what they need from her that day and let’s them make the decision about what to discuss.

The most difficult thing they need to learn is not how to fill out the forms or even talk about their backgrounds but how to talk the language of the employer. If you can’t talk the language of the employer, the employer can’t relate to you, she says.

Ten tips for a better job club experience

Easton offers 10 tips for job club members and their professional instructor leaders:

  1. Ask them to do a Google search on themselves, then post some really nice pictures of themselves on Flikr. That way when someone tags them those really nice photos will appear on the first page and the mug shot will come out on the second page.
  2. Have an instructor who is knowledgeable enough to drop what they intended to do and do something else. Also the instructor shouldn’t throw too much at the job club members. They have so much going on in their lives.
  3. Do “a week in the life of” and let them sit down and figure out what else they have to do that week and where the job search fits in. It you tell them it takes 40 hours a week they’re going to lose it.
  4. Once they get a survival or transition job, don’t push them to go to the next step too quickly. They often fear that if they have to move on they won’t make it. Life is like Simon Says. Take two giant steps forward, three baby steps backward, and they will eventually get to the other side.
  5. Make collages. Many of them are visual people. Tell them now that they have a job and their first paycheck to cut out pictures of what happens when they have that job. They can open a bank account, maybe buy a car, get some medical taken care of.
  6. Play games like Job Search Jeopardy with fake money. Say “I’ll take resumes for 200.” They have a great time, learn something and get little prizes.
  7. Make sure to put their past where it belongs. If someone was convicted 20 years ago, they’re not the same person they were. Don’t let their past define them. They’re not a bank robber today.
  8. Use the rearview mirror and the front windshield of a car exercise. Tell them to write everything about who they are on that rear view mirror. Put it away because they’re not going to look at the past anymore. They never have a chance to make a new beginning, but they can make a new end.
  9. Then give them a windshield and tell them to write down everything they see ahead. That’s their new beginning. You’re in a wretched car and it needs new tires. Then we get the bumper on. You drive down a road and it’s a dead end and you have to turn around and come back. Everybody has that ability to move forward, but you have to learn how to do it.
  10. Play red flag. Write all barriers to employment except criminal background on the red flags. Then post these on a board and figure out what you can do to overcome them.

It’s all about learning to be a job seeker.

Check with your local American Job Center to see if they have a job club for those in reentry or know of one in the area where you live.


A New Way of Life serves as model program for women in reentry


Susan Burton

Fifteen years ago, when Susan Burton began her work helping women who were leaving prison, she would pick them up where the bus left them off in south Los Angeles and take them home with her. People would throw rocks at her house.

Today they bring flowers and supplies that the women need to get back on their feet. And Burton’s organization, A New Way of Life, manages five transitional houses, which served 62 women and 23 children last year. It also runs a legal clinic and leadership training programs that reach hundreds more.

As someone who was in and out of the criminal justice system for two decades herself, Burton well understands her clients’ situations and how to help them.

“A New Way of Life has been a first chance for them not a second chance. They came from families and environments where they never had a chance,” she says. “They survived trauma after trauma and have responded so well to opportunity. It’s like the thirst being quenched.” And what she does seems to work. The recidivism rate for those in the program is just 20 percent.

Women stay in her homes from nine days to 18 months, depending on their needs. “The main requirement is that people want to change their lives and they’re willing to take care of themselves, bathe themselves and be medication compliant,” Burton says.

Although her staff works with residents on resumes, A New Way of Life deals more with the basics of providing a place to stay and working to reunite women with their children and refers women to other organizations that can help them find jobs.

Legal clinic helps clients expunge conviction records

Through a partnership with UCLA School of Law’s Critical Race Studies Program, ANWOL’s Reentry Legal Clinic deals with one very real barrier to employment – criminal records. Two staff attorneys and another 10 or so volunteer attorneys and  other community volunteers run the monthly clinic. They help about 400 men and women each year expunge their conviction records and make sure their employment rights are not being violated.

Although A New Way of Life deals with most of the practical needs of women in reentry, Burton wants to create a dialogue so that her clients and others understand what has happened to them within a broader context.

To do this, she created the LEAD (Leadership, Education, Action and Dialogue) Project, a program in which women who live in her houses meet biweekly to discuss issues related to incarceration and the prison industrial complex.

“Many times our residents think that what happens to them is acceptable. They deserved to be locked up,” she says. “The LEAD Project opens their mind to see what can make things different.“

Another group that she created, Women Organizing for Justice Leadership Training Institute, is an intensive four-month program that brings 30 formerly incarcerated women together twice monthly. Participants develop leadership skills, learn about community organizing and take a critical look at the criminal justice system.

Through all these efforts, Burton has made a substantial impact helping women navigate their post-release reentry. “The most important thing that needs to happen is that they have a place where they can feel a part of community. Where they feel like they’re valued. And from there, it’s just making one accomplishment and overcoming one barrier after the other,” she says.

Those interested in staying in one of Susan’s homes can apply online.


Get help cleaning up your record for free at the Papillon Foundation

SecondChanceA criminal arrest or conviction record can be the biggest impediment to getting gainful employment, and the two-year-old Papillon Foundation is determined to help teach those who have one how to get it expunged.

And if the number of hits the foundation’s website gets – between 300 and 500 per day – is any indication, there are a lot of people out there who want to learn how to do it. In fact, when former lawyer Alan Courtney – who founded the Creston Calif.-headquartered foundation with his wife, Nina – was in prison for white-collar crime, he found it was a serious concern among his fellow inmates.

“When I was in county jail and in prison this was like the number one thing that Inmates would talk about. It was that when they got out they could not get a job because of their criminal record. They couldn’t get a job, they couldn’t get housing, and they were worried,” Courtney says.

He realized that there’s a desperate need for this type of information, and when released in 2010 decided to do something about it. Courtney and his wife began collecting information in all 50 States, the District of Columbia and American Territories on how each state handles expungement in order to build their website.

It took about a year to get their nonprofit status, and now the couple supplies self-help information so that ex-offenders can apply for their own expungements, or if they need help – an average of about four per day do – the Courtneys will assist them.

The first step in that help is sending a standard email that explains how to use the website, since it’s designed for do-it-your-selfers.

The Courtneys ask the people who can’t make it work to send them their rap sheet. “Without the rap sheet we really can’t help them, because a lot of times they think they know what they were charged with, but it turns out to be something else,” he says.

“We also find lots and lots of mistakes on these rap sheets, and the rap sheet is what the courts go on, so what really happened doesn’t matter. Nine times out of ten there’s something strange on the rap sheet. Very rarely does it comply with exactly what they (the ex-offender) think it should be.”

In looking at who requests information, Courtney found an interesting phenomenon. “We get 75 percent of our inquiries from women, but women are less than 10 percent of the prison population,” he says. These women are not just doing it for themselves but for their sons, their brothers and their boyfriends.

While expunging records is not easy anywhere, there are several states where it is  particularly difficult, if not impossible.  According to Courtney, in New Mexico and Alaska there is no expungement at all, and New York only allows expungement of arrest records, not conviction records. Indiana recently changed its laws to allow expungements, and Oklahoma works on a county-by-county basis. Ex-offenders there must file in civil court in roughly half of the state’s counties and in criminal court in the other half.

The whole process is quite complicated, but the Papillon Foundation makes it a bit easier by offering a wide range of information that includes links to forms, articles, how-to guides, organizations and free legal resources for each state. For those seeking expungement, the website is an exceptionally helpful source.

Contact the Papillon Foundation through its website at, by phone at 805-712-3378 or by mail at:

The Papillon Foundation, P.O. Box 338, Creston, CA 93432-0338