How Prison Fellowship and CrossWalk Center Are Partnering to Place Houston-Area Academy Graduates in Living-Wage Careers
Kathy Vosburg’s first time inside a prison was at a Prison Fellowship Academy® graduation in October 2006. While visiting the original Academy at the Carol S. Vance Unit, one man told her, "We have never, ever known in our entire lives the unconditional love like these mentors and these volunteers show us while we're here at the Vance Unit."
That memory stuck.
Today, Vosburg is the founder of CrossWalk Center in Houston, Texas. A local, faith-based parachurch organization founded in 2016, Crosswalk offers safe, transitional housing, reentry and spiritual counseling, and living-wage employment placement services.
Vosburg has long hoped to find a point of connection with Prison Fellowship®. "We're the new kids on the block," she explains. "Prison Fellowship is the grandfather of in-prison, faith-based ministry."
In late 2019, Prison Fellowship began a formal partnership with CrossWalk Center.
PRISON FELLOWSHIP AND CROSSWALK OFFER CONTINUED SUPPORT
At Prison Fellowship, we offer men and women in-prison programming to develop the attitudes and abilities they will need for a successful reentry into society. While in-prison programming is our primary focus, we recognize the importance of continued support outside of prison.
For this reason, we partner with local organizations that can provide resources, healthy churches, and community groups. These local partnerships are best positioned to support each returning citizen on the next phase of their journey.
Since early 2020, CrossWalk has been serving graduates of the Prison Fellowship Academy as they leave Carol Vance. Prison Fellowship Academy graduates can benefit from reliable, faith-based, safe housing and employment partner organizations.
Tom Harris spent many years in the military. Today, he uses his skills to match vetted employers with dedicated, motivated employees seeking to rebuild their lives. “The whole idea is to get [returning citizens] across the Grand Canyon of employment to the other side, so that they can use their motivation and dedication to actually earn their way," Tom Harris explains.
When I was studying this issue, I saw that recidivism rates were anywhere from 67% to 70%. That number just absolutely blew my mind, but when you realize that when someone has that felon moniker after their name, nobody will hire them, it starts to make sense. So, we create the venue for folks to get out of that revolving door. … I'm blessed with the opportunity to reach out to the business world and tell them, 'If you want quality, dedicated, motivated men and women, then you've come to the right place.'"
PRISON FELLOWSHIP AND CROSSWALK OFFER A GENUINE SECOND CHANCE
Many people with a criminal record wind up in dead-end jobs. But through CrossWalk, Academy graduates have better options. Harris works to place them in safe employment conditions that offer living wages, on-the-job training, and advancement opportunities. In short, genuine second chances.
Even amid the global pandemic and resulting mass unemployment of 2020, several Academy graduates have found jobs at a Houston-area company that manufactures coolers. Their starting wage is $11.50 an hour. But they can make more on the night shift and up to $24 an hour for working overtime.
Academy graduates can also call Harris for advice when they run into an issue at work that might otherwise derail their budding careers. "When I sincerely believe that someone just wants that second chance, there's nothing I won't do to assist them," he says.
Local employers have been pleased by the return on their investment. Returning citizens are some of the "best employees you can hire because they don't have a sense of entitlement," Harris says. "They are trying to prove something to themselves as well as to everyone else. … They want to be the example to their kids that maybe no one was for them."
Academy graduates are determined to make the most of their second chance. Harris accompanied one of them, "Bones," to his first job interview, to help him get over his fear. Now a successful employee, Bones recently sent CrossWalk a note that said, "I'm going to make you proud. Nobody has done for me what you guys are doing for me."
PRISON FELLOWSHIP AND CROSSWALK OFFER HOPE
In the summer of 2020, Prison Fellowship's CrossWalk partners were looking forward to receiving their largest influx of Academy graduates yet.
"It's just exciting that we've got these friends we're co-laboring with at Prison Fellowship. There's continuous dialogue. It's exciting to watch all the cogs that are starting to turn together," says Vosburg. "We call Houston the ground zero of recidivism. We have so many returning citizens. If we can move the needle here and change the way reentry happens in this city as we journey with Prison Fellowship, we can replicate this model and actually change the picture nationally."
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