"I got up this morning, did my prayers, and just put [the day] in God's hands," says Joseff White.
It's April 10, and Joseff is at the Word of Restoration International Church for the Prison Fellowship® Second Chance Job Fair. Joseff was incarcerated for 26 years. Now out on parole, he's looking for a job. But employment is hard to come by when you have a criminal record and a GPS monitor tracking your every move.
Today, Word of Restoration Church is buzzing as representatives from various businesses gather to interview and discuss career opportunities with returning citizens like Joseff—regardless of their criminal pasts.
Charles Perry, Word of Restoration's pastor, is all smiles as the fair begins. "I'm excited about today," he says. "Just because [former prisoners] have a past, I don't think they should be robbed of the future that God has for them."
ECONOMIC BENEFITS FOR THE COMMUNITY
LaTonya Kelly is the HR Talent Acquisition Coordinator for FedEx Ground. When she heard of the opportunity to represent her company at the job fair, she knew she needed to be here. After all, hiring former prisoners makes economic sense.
"It helps the economy," she explains. "It also helps [former prisoners] provide for their families [and] feel like they are part of society."
Tiffany Wilson agrees. She's the executive director for Posey Construction & Development, Inc., a local women-owned business that fully supports second chances. "I wish more employers knew and understood that people are people," she says. "It benefits the entire community when [we give former prisoners] second chances because they're back into the workforce."
When criminal convictions limit returning citizens' employment options, it's harder to pay taxes, further their education, feed and house their families, and function as law-abiding citizens. In fact, legal restrictions on employment end up costing the United States economy $65 billion in economic output.
A PERSONAL CONNECTION
For Timothy Harriman, the Second Chance Job Fair is personal. He was released from prison in 2015 and has since successfully started his own business in Houston called Falcon Contractors. He knows firsthand how difficult it is to start over after incarceration.
"So many people are discouraged at being turned down for whatever reason [and] being prejudged without knowing their past or their beliefs," he says. "Employing people that have had an opportunity to come out and reenter into society … it gives them inspiration to move forward and to build not only their own personal lives, but interact with other people and gain that trust."
In addition to hiring former prisoners like himself, Timothy also volunteers with in-prison programs. "I reach out to these people and build their self-esteem, encourage them to say, 'Hey, I can be more than I was prior to incarceration.'"
MORE THAN JUST A CRIMINAL RECORD
For Joseff, the Second Chance Job Fair is an important event, and he's taking it seriously. He has planned ahead and is ready to talk to recruiters and employers. "I had a stack of resumes already typed up," he says. "I wasn't sure how many companies would be here."
Joseff visited his parole officer the week before and made sure to include the Second Chance Job Fair on his schedule so the visit didn’t set off his GPS monitor. It's a fact of life for Joseff—his ankle monitor is a physical reminder that he even though he's paid his debt to society, he has yet to win back the law's trust.
Even so, the crowds of employers, job hunters, and volunteers see his potential and welcome him.