Monday, April 25, 2011

Barriers for ex-offenders

We all have barriers or obstacles that we face nearly on a daily basis.  The program I work in has proven itself to have more barriers when it comes to helping individuals gain and maintain employment. The cliental I work with are all ex-offenders who are on Parole. There is a lot of judgment about giving a person with a record a job.  I wanted to take the time to list some of the major barriers that individuals in my line of work face.

  1. Having a criminal record has to be one of the worst barriers that an individual can have when it comes to employment. There are so many restrictions about where, with who, and how much work an individual on parole can do.  Everyone makes mistakes, everyone has troubled times and makes horrible decisions, does that mean those individuals should not have a change?  Employers need to remember that not all charges are the same and not all crimes were committed in the same way or for the same reason.  Just lumping an individual into a category can do more damage to that individual.
  2. The second biggest barrier is public opinion.  When an employer looks over the application and sees the part checked about a felony or criminal record the chances of that individual receiving an interview are slim to none. The going thought process is “Once a criminal, always a criminal”.  The problem with this is if an individual is not given a chance to prove they want a different life, then they will be forced to return to the life of crime.  The state I work in has the highest rate of recidivism in the country.  More people per year return to prison here than any other state. Why do you think that is? I think it is because many people and employers will not give the individual a chance so what would you do if you had no income, no way to provide for your family or children, and no one willing to give you a chance?  I have a feeling you would make some hard choices and maybe do something illegal if it meant you were going to survive.  I know most reading this will say “I would never get that bad to commit a crime, all I say is no one wakes up one day excited to commit a crime.
  3. Self Worth, self esteem and having others that believe in you is another barrier that an ex-offender will face. It is demeaning, frightening and embarrassing for an individual to make a mistake and be placed in jail or prison.  The belief system and individual grew up with has a lot to do with how they view themselves and the world around them. If you grow up hearing you are not worthy, then you will prove everyone who said that to you right.  The individuals I work with teach me to look over my thinking, see what my discrimination thoughts and work to change them.  I think individuals need a second chance because if they learn from the mistake they can grow as a person, but if they try to do right and are held down because of their mistake then they will surely go make another one.
  4. Substance abuse issues plague this world, and everyone who knows that in 1956 the AMA finally named addiction as a disease, knows that this complicates a persons success.  The going statistic is that 80% of crimes are committed under the influence of a substance, getting the substance, or selling the substance.  The war on Drugs from the 80’s has worked so well thus far.  I think that statistic is low because if you meet my clients, hear their story it is evident that substance related issues and money are the factors that keep them dealing drugs.  No one thinks to them selves when they are on the playground, “When I grow up, I want to be a drug addict”
  5.   Criminal thinking is a reality but that does not mean that it has to remain. When a person makes a mistake, they usually get a consequence, Think of a small child that is put in time out.  If they learn from their punishment they have a better chance of not repeating the same behavior.  When it comes to ex-offenders the same is true, yes there are some who might never learn, but making it harder for them to get housing, employment, safety and security the chances are that they will return to that style of thinking

I hope people remember that we all make mistakes and do or say stupid things, but as long as we are given a chance then we all can succeed.  I would love to know the thoughts that enter the minds of the readers when they think of ex-offenders. Are there judgments in there? 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Working 6 days a week, 12 hour shifts and still smiling

I just returned from a vacation in a place with crystalline waters that reflected the sky making the water clear and relaxing as the waves quietly crashed into the shore. The hotel was pristine with palm trees that gently swayed with the coolish breeze that would gently stroll across the white sandy beach.  So what does this have to do with employment you might ask?  How can a person return from a vacation and have an article about employment?  From the moment we walked in to the lobby of this hotel the hustle and bustle never stopped, from the check in you get a nice fruit laden glass of I think Pina Colada and are greeted with a smile and a very welcoming “Hola”.  As I was wondering around looking at the breath taking scene from the lobby door, looking out over the pool which seemed to disappear into the ocean, I had to stop and think.  How is this place so beautiful with all the vacationers meandering about, checking their computers, I pads, having their first drinks for the day?  Then over the next week the answer to that question became as crystal clear as the ocean.

Over the course of the week we met several of the staff, had some great conversations and yes a few laughs. It was a delightful time.  I want to share the insights from the trip that helped me appreciate my career and feel somewhat like a slacker.  As I was relaxing I noticed things from people that were from different countries, but mainly from America.  These are some of the things I noticed.

  1. From the first breakfast the waitress was always smiling and seemed happy even though she never stopped moving. The morning coffee was never empty and the drinks that were ordered were also never empty. On the 3rd day after skipping breakfast the waitress asked the rest of our party where we were.  It is interesting to see someone come out of the buffet area when you are walking by and waving and speaking because they did not see you that morning.
  2. The maitre d' who worked 6 days a week for 12 hours a day always stopped by the table to help teach us Spanish, he was always smiling and loved to kid with us on a daily basis. We saw him for each meal at the buffet. morning, noon and night.
  3. When a resort states tips are included this does not mean you can ignore the staff that go above and beyond.  We had great service and I think the service was that great due to the tips that we shared with the individuals that were there working.  I noticed so many Americans and individuals from other countries that maybe tipped 1 dollar and they did not get the best service.
  4. There was an individual who spent time with us in the evenings in the bar that really took a shine to us.  He was a maitre d' in the evening and took time to talk with us in between running around and checking in with everyone to make sure they were taken care of. One night we asked him “How can you work 6 days a week with 12-13 hour shifts and still be smiling and friendly”?  He answered he was grateful for his job. He went on to tell us about his two children one 2 years old and 1 6 months old.  He told us that he get’s home around 1 AM catches a quick nap then the 6 month old has him up.  That is after a 12-13 hour day at work.  Normally you would hear someone complaining about how tired they were or how much they hated that schedule, but this individual was grateful to have his job and grateful for his life.
  5. I have never seen a resort that was so clean.  The individuals who were in charge of cleaning the rooms, cleaning the lobby and the overall cleaning of the outside did a tremendous job.

As I sit here writing this I find myself still  on that stool looking out at the mirror like water, having individuals rushing to take care of whatever I might need, and yet watching the best work ethic I have ever experienced.  By the end of the week all the individuals we were gracious to meet were calling us by our names and seemed a bit sad because we were leaving, they might have been sad the tippers were leaving, but the genuine smiles; hand shakes and friendly razzing told me differently.  If I walked away from this vacation with one thing, I hope it is for me to go above and beyond for my job, not complain about the day or hours, but return to the gratitude that Rebekah, Jamie, Abiendio, Xavier, Julliam and Uliciez taught me. Give your all and remember if you love what you do you can always smile about it.