Tony Davis never thought he would appear on a panel about employing ex-offenders at an Out4Life Reentry Summit for coalition members, but he’s well-qualified.
On most days Tony, 32, works outdoors with his five-man auto maintenance crew in the sweltering heat of Sulphur, Louisiana. Partly because of the elements, says the service station manager, he may go through a score of employees in a single year. Some of Tony’s employees come from a halfway house for inmates slated for release.
“The best hand I ever had was from the halfway house,” recalls Tony as he installs upgraded computers at the station after closing. “It’s a great thing for employers because employees are motivated to attend [work] and perform, and they have already been through a screening process at the halfway house . . . [The prisoner] is in a structured environment. I’m for people hiring guys in the halfway house.”
Sometimes, when employees from the halfway house have worked with him for a while, Tony enjoys their startled faces as he tells them his secret: He used to be just like them.
Tony first worked for the national franchise in 1998, though he disliked it. “I was young and ignorant,” he says. Trouble with the law landed him in jail for the first time.
When he got out, “I had made up my mind not to go back to [my former employer],” he says. But after being turned away everywhere else, Tony had to humble himself and ask for his old job back.
Gracious managers gave Tony a second chance. “They seen something I didn’t know I had,” he marvels. Even when Tony went to jail a second time, his managers still did not give up on him. Believing in his latent potential, they agreed to re-hire him on his release.
Near the end of his sentence, Tony went to the halfway house in Lake Charles and worked at the service station during the day. By the time he was released, he had justified his managers’ faith. He was quickly promoted to full manager of a service station.
Tony credits his increased responsibilities with helping him avoid trouble. Also, his second incarceration gave him the time he needed to align his priorities. “When I came back the second time, I was a man . . . I found God. I realized what life is all about—living by spiritual principles.”
When Tony tells employees from the halfway house that he, too, served time, they are shocked, he says, but then encouraged to know that their manager understands them.
His advises them to live by the principles he has adopted: “Don’t lie, cheat, or steal. Get your character right, and the job will follow. Stay focused, stay humble, and keep doing the right thing.”
Right living, of course, does not guarantee a life free of problems, as Tony has seen firsthand.
On Independence Day 2009—a Saturday—Tony’s service station caught fire during the night. No one was hurt, but Tony’s job went up with the flames.
But by Sunday, he received a phone call informing him that the station manager in Sulphur had quit unexpectedly, and Tony was needed to manage the store starting on Monday. He didn’t miss a single day of work, and he was even able to take his Lake Charles crew along with him to Sulphur.
He marvels, “That’s another one of God’s miracles right there.”