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.”

 

Denver area teacher creates TattooEmergency911 mobile tattoo removal business to benefit juvenile offenders

TattooEmergency911Jesus Bujanda has created TattooEmergency911, a mobile tattoo removal business that removes unwanted tattoos from juvenile offenders. It’s a model that others may wish to follow, and those who do may eventually be able to purchase a mobile clinic from him.

Bujanda, a Denver area resident and automotive technology high school teacher, was inspired by a nephew who had recently been released from prison and had his tattoos removed.

They had discussed the idea of starting a tattoo removal business at a family Thanksgiving dinner. By New Year’s, Bujanda’s wife had come up with the idea of using an ambulance which would be turned into a clinic and his 8-year-old daughter had come up with the name. Six months later he was in school learning how to be a laser tattoo removal technician.

That was about 18 months ago. Bujanda bought an ambulance, outfitted it so he could perform tattoo removal procedures and began searching for clients. He eventually got a contract with an agency that works with the state of Colorado and now does tattoo removals at three prisons and four transitional living facilities that cater to juvenile offenders. And it’s the youth he’s determined to help.

“A lot of kids make a lot of horrible choices,” he said. “I’ve been working with this population for the last 20 years, and I feel like I’ve kind of found my niche.”

Because he’s still teaching full time, Bujanda does treatments in the evenings and on weekends.

“I have the majority of the state for juveniles,” he says. “As these kids get out, part of their parole is to take their tattoos off. They’re trying to find a job, but they can’t find a job with tattoos on their face. If they do the tattoo removal six months to a year ahead of time, it’s better.” And that’s what Bujanda is trying to do – take off tattoos before they leave prison.

Although he would like to “retire” to the tattoo removal business full time, that may take a while. His wife has opened a brick-and-mortar location that provides aesthetic and laser services, while he continues to teach.

“I don’t have enough clients to retire yet,” Bujanda says, but is hoping to get them by expanding his business to California. He’s establishing residency in Bakersfield and working with the Small Business Development Center there to bring his mobile tattoo services to the area.

He’s also taking classes on how to create proposals for federal funding and would like to work within the federal prison system as well.

In addition, Bujanda plans to create mobile tattoo units as part of his business and is already communicating with someone in Great Britain who is interested in having one designed.

“I’ll have all the software put in, the lasers installed and the rig completely ready to go,” he says.

“It is very difficult. I almost didn’t survive my first year. If you had to pay to build a rig like mine it would be super expensive. I was able to do 95% of the work myself.”

Having him provide the vehicle could save someone a lot of time, money and stress, Bujanda says. And it would be fully outfitted and ready to use.

For those who may want to put together their own rig, however, Bujanda says it will take a tremendous amount of research. And then things don’t always work out.

It’s possible to buy a retired ambulance with relatively low mileage. “Some ambulances from rural areas aren’t used that much, so they might retire them at 30,000 miles or up to 100,000 miles, and they’re very well maintained,” he says.

You may find a dealer for one of these used ambulances by searching online for “used ambulance dealers.” There are also companies that will design and produce custom-ordered vehicles for medical uses. One mobile tattoo unit used Quality Vans of Tempe, Ariz., for example. Other similarly specialty vehicles producers can be located by searching the member’s directory of NTEA, The Association for the Work Truck Industry.

And nonprofits might want to team up with their county health department or other local medical organization, if it is one of the clinics that operates a mobile health program. There are an estimated 2,000 of these programs across the U.S. Mobile Health Map offers details on 700 of them.

Meanwhile, when it comes to equipment Bujanda recommends buying a laser device from a company that has a technician in town, or at least close by, if possible. That way if something goes wrong you won’t have to fly someone in to fix it.

The interior was one of his biggest challenges, mainly because the man who he hired to do it got sick, so Bujanda had to learn how to do the work, including the electricity, himself.

And he purchased the wrong flooring. “It looked really nice when I first put it in, but what looks good in a doctor’s office takes a lot of maintenance,” he says.

But in the end, he has his rig. “You really have to sit down and understand what you’re doing. It’s all trial and error.”

 

Jails to Jobs creates a new job search training toolkit for those who want to help ex-offenders find employment

Job Search Training ToolkitWorking with people about to leave prison or those in reentry who are trying to find jobs? Nonprofit Jails to Jobs, Inc. has a brand new resource to help you do that more effectively.

Its new Jails to Jobs: Job Search Training Toolkit is designed to give people who present job search workshops in jails and prisons, and job developers who work with previously incarcerated individuals the resource they need. And it’s all here and ready to go.

The kit includes 20 copies of an all-inclusive job search handbook, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, published by the organization. It also includes a 73-slide PowerPoint presentation, which was developed as the result of delivering workshops to more than 3,000 soon-to-be-released men and women and is based on the book. The presentation can be used to conduct a two- to three-hour workshop in one or multiple sittings, making it easier to schedule.

All presenters need to do is familiarize themselves with the material in the book, as well as the PowerPoint slides, and they’re ready to offer the workshop. Corresponding page numbers from the job search handbook are listed on slides making it easier for both presenter and participants to use slides along with the book. Optional slides can be added, or existing slides edited, to include local resources and other unique details furthering the value of the workshop.

Participants will receive a copy of the handbook that they can read and study further and use as a guide through the job search process to find and land a job and stay out of prison.

The PowerPoint presentation and the book offer advice, instructions and exercises to teach participants just about everything they need to do to conduct a job search.

Why order a job search training toolkit? Here are 25 reasons!
Putting the tools together

Workshop participants will learn how to:

  • Record an effective voice-mail message, standout and be remembered.
  • Create a unique card that may work better than a resume.
  • Prepare an elevator pitch, helping to make a very favorable first impression.
  • Put together a master application and resume, saving time and increasing productivity in their search.
  • Develop a targeted list of potential employers who they can contact and visit.
Once they begin their search

They’ll learn how to:

  • Use a proven technique, integrating the telephone and email for the best job search success results.
  • Find the person who has the power to extend a job offer.
  • Just walk into places of employment and know what to tell the hiring managers that will increase their chances of getting a job offer.
  • Create and use a circle of contacts chart to identify people who can help them in their job search including offering job leads.
  • Make their parole officer a part of their network.
  • Carry out an informational interview and gain inside knowledge.
Dealing effectively with their record

They’ll learn how to:

  • Create a convincing argument that hiring previously incarcerated individuals increases an employers’ talent pool and makes economic sense.
  • Encourage a job offer by knowing how and when to present hiring incentives that employers can take advantage of to benefit their bottom line.
  • Create a turnaround talk and package to convince employers that they have changed.
  • Highlight useful work skills developed in prison, helping to make the prison experience a strength rather than a negative.
  • Deal with their record on the job application form and increase the likelihood of being hired.
  • Understand and utilize two of the most effective job search methods that work for ex-offenders.
Resources and things they may not have thought of

They’ll learn how to:

  • Integrate volunteering into their efforts as a method to increase possible job leads and offers.
  • Use a temp employment agency as a stepping stone to full time regular work. Includes a list of 12 agencies we’ve heard good things about.
  • Employ unorthodox methods to get the attention of hiring managers.
  • Find free interview clothing and work attire.
  • Find free or low-cost tattoo removal programs to get visible anti-social or gang-related job stopping tattoos taken off.
  • Take advantage of job training and apprenticeship programs.
  • Implement 10 key tips from surveyed employers that will make ex-offenders more marketable.

The cost of the training toolkit is $240 and includes shipping within the continental United States. Additional copies of the book are available at a discounted rate of $12 each. We invite you to take a look at our book reviews on Amazon and email us with any questions and to place your order.

 

 

 

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.

 

Root & Rebound publishes toolkit to enlighten employers on the value of hiring ex-offenders

Root & ReboundOakland, Calif.-based nonprofit Root & Rebound has published the California Employers’ Fair Chance Hiring Toolkit. This 28-page toolkit is not just an exceptional resource for companies and organizations that are committed to – or considering – hiring those with criminal records. It can also be used by jobseekers from that population as a persuasive tool to enlighten potential employers on the considerations and benefits they would gain from hiring them.

Although it may be hard to believe, nearly one out of three Americans has a criminal record. As the economy continues to grow and demand for additional workers steadily rises, it will become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to ignore that segment of the population.

In fact, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in 2014 between 1.7 and 1.9 million U.S. workers weren’t hired because they had criminal records. This resulted in an estimated loss of $78 to $87 billion in annual gross domestic product.

Hiring fair chance employees makes economic sense

Hiring those with criminal records makes economic sense both in the big picture and for companies themselves, but most employers still need to be convinced.

More than 40 large corporations and nearly 250 small- and medium-sized businesses, however, have already taken the Fair Chance Business Pledge created by the Obama White House in late 2015. These businesses have promised to give people with criminal records, including those who have been incarcerated, a fair chance at employment. We suggest you review these businesses that have taken the pledge to see if there are any you might want to consider adding to your list of 100 employers to pursue.

While this is a beginning and brings attention to the issue, it’s crucial that more companies become committed to hiring second-chance employees. And that’s where Root & Rebound’s toolkit comes in.

Toolkit provides extensive info for all employers

Although it’s geared toward California employers, much of the advice and most of the action steps it recommends can be useful to employers no matter which state they operate within.

The California Employers’ Fair Chance Hiring Toolkit covers:

  • The rewards of hiring fair chance workers.
  • The best practices for onboarding and training fair chance workers.
  • How to choose a reliable background check company.
  • Legal compliance and minimizing risks involved.
Giving copy of Toolkit to the hiring manager shows initiative and having their best interests in mind.

As you interview for jobs, along with your turnaround packet you may want to print out and provide the hiring manager with a copy of the toolkit to offer them information on the additional benefits that they might receive by hiring you and what steps they need to take to do so. If you live in California, this toolkit covers all the basics that an employer needs to know. If you live in another state, check with your local American Job Center to ask for help in adding relevant state-related information.

Benefits of hiring fair chance workers

The toolkit includes evidence that fair chance employees can benefit a company or organization by highlighting:

  • Case studies of companies that have hired second-chance employees with great success. For example, Johns Hopkins Health System & Hospital, Dave’s Killer Bread and Butterball Farms all have hired a substantial number of employees with criminal records and found that their turnover rate is lower than that of those without records.
  • Testimonials from executives of companies that have been actively hiring fair chance employees for many years.

Root & Rebound’s California Employers’ Fair Chance Hiring Toolkit is very well put together and an excellent resource for both employers and job seekers alike.

 

Determining the best final question to wrap up an interview

interview

Brad Drevno

In job interviews, the questions that you ask the interviewers may be as important, if not more so, as the questions they ask you. And the question you ask last may leave a lasting impression.

As you prepare for an interview, keep in mind that very carefully crafted questions will give you insight into the company or organization and help you determine what type of place it is and whether it would be a good fit for your skills, talents and personality. In other words, would you be happy working there?

Asking intelligent questions will also show the person who is interviewing you that you’ve done your homework, understand the business and are interested in potential employment within it.

There are a multitude of questions to ask throughout the interview, and many examples of these can be found online. (We also offer tips on our website.) But what happens after most of the questions have already been asked? How do you respond when the interviewer closes the interview with, “Do you have any other questions? or “Is there anything else you’d like to know?”

Save an intelligent question for the end of the interview

Instead of saying, “No, I think I’ve asked everything I need to,” be sure to save a question for the end.

Brad Drevno, chief operating officer of Professional Case Development in Denver, Colo., – and mentor for business students at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business – has a suggestion for an idea he picked up during his search for his current position.

“We’ve all been there,” he says. “It’s the end of the interview, and after nearly an hour of pouring your heart (and work experience) out to a potential employer, the hiring manager asks if you have any last questions before wrapping up.”

“It’s meant to be a formality, of course – a way to end the conversation without kicking you out right then and there. But it’s also an opportunity, intentional or not, to make one final impression and give your interviewer something to remember you by.”

Effective question to close interview

Drevno was inspired by an article on the Medium website which was written by Marshall Darr when he was entrepreneur in residence at Tradecraft.

In the article, Darr says he ends each interview with: “Actually, yeah, I was wondering what your best moment so far at (company name) was?”

Darr credits this rather innocuous question not only with giving him insight into the hiring manager and the company in a way that perhaps no other question could, but it has also turned interviews that weren’t going well for him into invitations back.

And Drevno found that, “There’s no higher note to end on than with your interviewer’s fondest memory of the company, a feeling that can now be subconsciously associated with your prospects as a future employee.”

It gives the hiring manager a chance to share the benefits of working for the company, and if they can’t come up with a “best moment,” you might want to consider looking elsewhere.

Everyone likes a happy memory. And encouraging the hiring manager to remember one might just be the thing that sets you apart from other applicants – and leads to a call-back interview or possibly a job offer.

 

How practicing meditation in prison can help inmates cope

meditation in prison

Drew Leder.

For many prisoners, meditation, mindfulness and contemplative practices have proved to be the key to surviving the insanity and stress they encounter every day. And there are several organizations designed to help them in their efforts.

“The single best thing that could happen in prisons around the country is to get prisoners meditating,” says Drew Leder, M.D., Ph.D., a philosophy professor at Loyola University Maryland and prison volunteer. He believes that rather than just serving time, incarceration can be a time for “inner change” and an opportunity for prisoners to create peace not only within themselves but also with the world around them.

Leder has been teaching a philosophy class, which integrates elements of mindfulness and meditation, at the Jessup Correctional Institution, a maximum/medium security facility operated by the Maryland Dept. of Public Safety and Correctional Services in Jessup, Md., for the past eight years. He’s also written several books. The most recent, Distressed Body: Rethinking Illness, Imprisonment and Healing, includes writings by long-term inmates.

Ways meditation can benefit the lives of prisoners

Through his work in the prison and his background as a medical doctor and philosopher, Leder clearly sees the benefits that reflective practices can offer to those incarcerated.

He mentions three ways in particular that meditation/mindfulness can improve their lives. It can:

  1. Lower a person’s level of reactivity and impulsivity. When triggered by an officer or another prisoner, you take those breaths and step away, he says. Detachment and self-awareness are what stop you from getting triggered and can help prevent you from ending up in solitary confinement.
  1. Help them develop a deep spiritual practice. I’ve met prisoners who have a serious meditation practice and go to a deep place, he says. Having access to that spiritual transcendence can help you deal with the wreck that your life is in and the fact that you have to serve a long amount of time.
  1. Provide a calming effect. Prison environments can be very loud, obtrusive, chaotic and potentially violent, and prisoners use meditation as a way to just keep equanimity and lower their stress level physiologically as well as emotionally, he says. Some of them are leaning toward right thinking, in which they choose to reframe things in a more positive fashion. Rather than thinking, “my cell mate is a terrible person,” imagine what terrible things he must have gone through in his past. This is especially useful when you are in a toxic environment.
Ask prison librarian for help

For those people in prisons or jails without meditation/mindfulness classes or programs, Leder suggests talking to the institution’s librarian, if there is one, and asking them to find books or online materials that will outline the steps needed to set up an individual practice.

Prison and jail librarians might also want to check out The Power of Meditation: Finding the Freedom Within, a brochure that Leder has been producing and distributing for 15 years and which he recently updated.

It includes a brief introduction to the benefits of developing a contemplative practice in prison, testimonials from prisoners in several institutions and a resource list of organizations that work with prisoners or supply them with information on meditation and mindfulness.

Organizations that help prisoners develop a mindfulness/meditation practice

Leder says that, of these organizations, two in particular stand out in terms of their dedication to serving the prison population:

  • The Prison-Ashram Project of the Human Kindness Foundation – This organization, based in Durham, N.C., sends out free personal spirituality practice books to inmates all over the world. It receives about 400 letters from inmates each week, and volunteers answer every single one of them.
  • The Siddha Yoga Prison Project – Operated out of the Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland, Calif., as part of the SYDA Foundation, it provides its Siddha Yoga Home Study Course to prisoners free of charge; donates other books and CDs to prisoners and prison librarians; and trains volunteers to conduct workshops within prisons.

In addition to Loyola University’s website for the project, which includes The Power of Meditation: Finding the Freedom Within brochure and links to the copy for its individual sections. Leder has also sent out more than 1,300 hard copies to prison and jail librarians.

 

Why ex-offenders should consider entering an apprenticeship program

apprenticeshipApprenticeships not only tend to be ex-offender friendly offering second chance employment, but they are also an excellent way to learn a set of skills that are in high demand among employers. And if you’re seriously determined to find a job, entering an apprenticeship may be the way to go.

In fact, there are statistics to back that up. Human resource consulting firm ManpowerGroup, in its 2016 Talent Shortage Survey, found that of more than 42,000 employers surveyed worldwide, 40 percent are finding difficulty filling job openings, the highest number since 2007. And for the fifth straight year, the hardest jobs to fill are skilled trades.

Top 10 jobs in terms of talent shortage
  1. Skilled trades
  2. IT staff
  3. Sales representatives
  4. Engineers
  5. Technicians
  6. Drivers
  7. Accounting and finance staff
  8. Management executives
  9. Machine operators
  10. Office staff

This fact, if nothing else, should encourage those leaving jail or prison to consider a career in the trades. But there are also other reasons, most notably that:

  • 91% of those completing an apprenticeship program gain employment.
  • The average starting wage for trade union jobs is above $60,000 per year.

Apprenticeship programs can appeal to those with a variety of skills and interests and be for jobs with titles that range from boilermaker or carpenter to meat cutter or sheet metal worker.

Although the programs may last from one to six years, the average length of an apprenticeship is four years. They combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction, during which participants may learn math, drafting, how to read blueprints and other skills necessary to perform a particular job. Apprentices are paid a wage – which usually starts at 35 percent to 50 percent of a full-time union job for that industry – and receive regular pay increases during the duration of the program.

How to find an apprenticeship program

There are hundreds of apprenticeship programs across the U.S., and to find out more about those in your area, you can visit your local American Job Center or search the Internet using search words like “union apprenticeship directory.”

The results that will come up may include directories of specific trade union groups, as well as directories put together by state government agencies. Here are a few examples:

California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Apprenticeship Standards

Indiana union construction industry

Maryland Apprenticeship and Training Program

Massachusetts building trade

Minnesota building and construction apprenticeship programs

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services apprenticeship directory

Washington Building Trades apprenticeship programs

The U.S. Department of Labor maintains a list of links to all state and U.S. territory programs.

Once you decide what type of trade you might be interested in, contact your local American Job Center or a specific union office or training center in your area for the details on what to do next. Taking that first step may lead you to a new career – and a new life beyond bars.