San Francisco Bay Area group delivers doula training program

Linda Jones, co-director of the The East Bay Community Birth Support Project's doula training program.

Linda Jones, co-director of the The East Bay Community Birth Support Project’s doula training program.

In a unique program that may be the only one of its type in the nation, The East Bay Community Birth Support Project is training formerly incarcerated women and women of color to become doulas.

For the uninitiated, a doula – from the ancient Greek meaning a woman who serves – is someone who provides physical and emotional support to a woman before, during and after she gives birth or offers the same services postpartum. A doula’s role is to make her client feel safe, comfortable and confident in the birth process by caring for her needs and helping her understand the process.

Although still not widely known, the doula profession is growing to cater to an increasing number of women who want a more personalized birth experience.

The idea for the doula-training program initially came from The Birth Justice Project, a San Francisco Bay Area organization of volunteer doulas who provide doula care and women’s health education to women in the San Francisco County Jail and local residential addiction recovery programs.

Although the original plan was to train eight formerly incarcerated women, the organizers soon realized that if the program only included those who had been in prison or jail, those women wouldn’t be able to keep their record private. So early on The Birth Justice Project partnered with Black Women Birthing Justice on a program that begins July 12 and includes eight formerly incarcerated women and eight women of color.

The training program details

The program consists of 24 hours of birth doula training during four days this month and a weekend of post-partum training in August. Each participant is being paired with a mentor doula who will attend their first few births with them. The mentors commit to five births, which can take place in a hospital, a birthing center or a home – in all about a six-month commitment.

“We hope our group of trainees can become a collective, and work together so they’re not all constantly on call, says Darcy Stanley, co-coordinator of the Birth Justice Project who is involved in the doula training program.

In addition to training doulas in the actual work they will do, the program is designed to help the participants learn how to market themselves and run a business as a doula.

“This training is not just about how birth works. The reason we’re doing the training is so when they’re done they can put together a business and know how it works,” says Linda Jones, cofounder of Black Women Birthing Justice who is also involved in the doula program.

“That’s why we’re having mentors. They can go with them and talk with clients and show how that works.”

The two women are talking to county programs and a couple of birth centers, as well as doulas about job placement potentials for the participants once they graduate from the program.

And Jones feels it’s especially important to train more women of color to be doulas.  “We want to have our community know that there’s such a thing as a doula and that we’re there for them,” she says.

“If they (women of color) happen to have a doula, it’s a volunteer, 20-something white girl. Our focus is to get more people of color wanting to be doulas. In order to have the knowledge and the inclination to do something, you have to have someone who looks like you doing it.”

And for the formerly incarcerated, being a doula might work out to an excellent career, free of job interviews and dealing with “the box.”

Although the first class is full and funding for this round only lasts until next April, Jones and Stanley are looking at how they might get future funding to keep the project going. They would ultimately like to bring in Spanish-speaking doulas – and possibly Vietnamese and Chinese as well.

For more information on the training program, visit the East Bay Community Birth Project’s page on the Birth Project’s website. To learn more about the doula profession, check out Dona International, a membership organization for professional doulas.


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Clean Slate reveals secrets of how ex-felons can find jobs

clean-slate-206x300In his book “Clean Slate: 9 Secrets to Getting a Job, Even With a Felony,” Michael Lewiston, a convicted felon who served time in prison, gives some excellent advice in an easy-to-follow format that can be read and digested in an afternoon.

His “secrets” or tips include:

  • Decide what you really want to do. Become a specialist in something and look for businesses that “don’t quite fit the mold” – he uses repossession companies as an example – or that tend to be more supportive of ex-offenders.
  • It’s not really about you. It’s about them. Concentrate on what you can do to help the employer.
  • Use LinkedIn and Facebook as tools to help you in your job search.
  • Reach out to friends and family to ask for help, and ask them to forward your resume or JIST card to their contacts. Those contacts might send it to their contacts – and soon lots of people will have your resume.
  • Create a well thought out story – what we at Jails to Jobs call a turnaround talk – to explain your situation, but save it until you’re convinced they like you and may want to hire you.
  • Always remember that you are not your past.

Additional insight from author Michael Lewiston

Impressed with what he had to say, we interviewed the author of this book and received more useful tips and advice that we wanted to be sure to share:

What is your background, and why did you decide to write Clean Slate?

When I was looking for work and my record was holding me back from gaining employment, I realized that most people don’t understand what it really means to be a felon. My crime was financial, non-violent, non-drug related, and yet I was lumped in with people’s worst, TV-fueled imaginations of what a felon could be.

Because of that I was repeatedly told that it was too risky to hire me. Other people thought of themselves as good compared to felons or anyone who spent time in prison. They didn’t want to hear about rehabilitation or second chances because that would change the story they were telling themselves. They wanted retribution instead – they wanted vengeance.

Getting someone who wants vengeance to hire you is no small task. My first job getting out I worked with a man who understood the situation and had a different mindset. But if I wanted to get better employment, I would have to fight this public need for retribution in addition to looking better than the other applicants. I learned some useful secrets along the way and wanted to get that information out there where others can use it to better their lives.

Which of the nine secrets you mention in the book do you think are the most important?

The very first secret is not really a secret but it’s the most important. Decide what you want! If you don’t know where you are going, or are willing to settle for anything (which is necessary sometimes I understand), you aren’t going to get where you need to be. More focus and drive will lead to more success. Also, No. 7, “Do Something With Your Time,” humanizes someone with a record and helps make them more likable.

Have you come up with any more secrets since you wrote this book?

The best way to get ahead more quickly is to learn new skills, and there has never a better time to do that in the history of the world than right now. I would recommend learning how to code – for free I might add – online with websites like The Internet is the future, and code runs the Internet. Learn a skill that will be valuable for years to come, and your employment will be easier to come by.

What do you think is the main obstacle (besides their record) that ex-offenders face when looking for a job?

Besides the spirit of retribution as opposed to a spirit of rehabilitation that many employers feel, I think a huge obstacle is an ex-offender’s attitude toward work and how people SHOULD treat them. An attitude of failure will make any job search grind to a halt. Also, not taking extra care of our appearance is a huge setback. People judge a book by its cover, and if you don’t look like what the employer thinks a felon looks like, then that’s just one less obstacle for you to overcome.


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Baltimore nonprofit teaches tattoo cover up techniques

Adult male adjusting necktie.A Baltimore nonprofit has come up with a method for dealing with the problem of visible tattoos. And they discovered it in a totally serendipitous way.

It all began a couple of years ago, when the Ex-Offender Mentoring Academy and Training Center at Living Classrooms Foundation decided to work on family reunification with fathers who were newly released from prison. They decided to use face painting as a way to bring the dads together with their kids.

“We found the face painter and we were talking. And she said makeup was good for everything. It even covers up tattoos,” said Howard Wicker, the center’s director. “It covers up everything no matter what the skin color.”

She said that they could wear makeup over their tattoos when they went to interviews. Wicker thought it was a good idea and asked her if she would be willing to come in and teach his guys, almost entirely African-American, how to do it. She agreed.

At about the same time, Wicker had found a plastic surgeon who was doing tattoo removal procedures on a handful of his clients. But it wasn’t working out too well.

“After two sessions they wouldn’t come back. The surgeon said it was too much money invested on the front end and then they wouldn’t come back,” Wicker said. We tried about four people but just weren’t successful getting it done. The makeup is a much easier way to do it.”

And now the program has two makeup artists who come in on a regular basis to teach the clients how to cover up visible tattoos with makeup. The classes are about once a month on Saturdays.

“Our staff is on the lookout for someone with tattoos that jump out at you. Guys are putting tattoos right in the middle of their forehead,” Wicker said. “We ask them to attend a session, and most of them do.” Those who do are all ages, but the average client is 30 years old, he added.

Wicker said it shouldn’t be too difficult for organizations to find a makeup artist to do the same thing for their clients. He recommends contacting a local playhouse – like those found in every city and even some small towns – to find out the name of and contact info for their makeup artist. Every playhouse has one. Contact that person and ask them if they’d be interested in teaching ex-offenders with tattoos how to cover them up.

The makeup artists’ skills are really being used, according to Wicker, and they are very much appreciated, because what they do can make a big difference in the lives of formerly incarcerated people who are looking for work.

His organization buys the makeup but asks the guys they give it to to use it sparingly – only for interviews.

Individuals who can’t find a class at an organization can visit a professional makeup artist for a private session or learn how to cover up a tattoo with makeup by searching online, where articles on the subject, YouTube how-to videos and makeup recommendations can be found.

You can check out a couple of these instructional videos. One is done by a trainer at Napoleon Perdis Makeup Academy.  Another was created by an Australian who goes by the name of Nibbles. And they’re both pretty impressive.


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

St. Louis Federal Bank highlights best job search technique

Compass ConceptIn a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis,  James D. Eubanks, research analyst, and David G. Wiczer, economist, set out to figure out why, in spite of the fact the recession ended five years ago, the level of unemployment remains high. They wanted to see if it had anything to do with the techniques job seekers were using to look for employment.

And, in fact, it did. What they found revealed some interesting, but not particularly surprising, conclusions that were highlighted in an article published early this year.

The two researchers analyzed data gathered between 1976 and 2011 from the Current Population Survey, a survey of households conducted monthly by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In this survey, unemployed respondents are asked “What have you been doing in the last four weeks to find work?” and given a variety of choices as answers.

According to the survey results and authors’ calculations, the most popular job search method was contacting employers directly which was used by 65.7% of respondents. The second most popular method was answering ads, done by 25.8%, and contacting public employment agencies, done by 22.5%. Because job seekers could use more than one method, the figures total more than 100%.

Not only was contacting employers the most popular method, but it also was more effective than any of the others. More effective than employment agencies. More effective than networking with friends and relatives.

Again based on the Current Population Survey and authors’ calculations, they estimated the probability that a job seeker would gain employment using the various methods. During the first month of unemployment, the probability that those who contact employers directly will find a job is 46%. The probability for those placing or answering ads is 42% and networking with friends or relatives, 40%.

As time progresses, the probability that one method will work better than another gradually converges, and after one year they’re all about 20% effective, with only roughly a 2% difference from each other.

What you can do

This study once again confirms what we, at Jails to Jobs, have found to be the most effective job search technique – contacting hiring managers directly.

We recommend putting together a list of 100 employers who have the types of jobs you might be interested in. You can set boundaries like how far you’re willing to commute and the size of company you want to work for.

But don’t ignore the smaller employers. Depending on the type of work you do, you may want to concentrate on them. Companies with fewer than 250 employees hire nearly 75% of all workers in the U.S., and their hiring managers may be easier to get in touch with, since small companies are often less bureaucratic.

The list you compile should have the name of the company, its address, telephone number and the name of the hiring manager for the company or the department you would like to work in, if you can find it. Department managers, who usually function as the hiring managers, are sometimes listed on company websites or you might be able to find them by searching LinkedIn.

Pick up the phone

After you have your list together, the next thing to do is pick up the phone and call.

If you don’t have a name, tell the person who answers the phone, “I am trying to find out the name of the person who hires in (department). I want to send them a letter. How do you spell their last name? What is their official title?”  If they’re not sure, ask if they have a company directory handy and can look it up. Also try to get the person’s email address if at all possible, by saying “By the way, what’s that person’s email address?

Wrong extensions can often help direct you to the right person. Dial extensions starting with 1 or 2 and ask who is the hiring manager for whatever department you would  like to work in.

Avoid human resource departments. They support hiring managers during the selection process but don’t typically decide who gets hired. Their primary purpose is to screen you out.

Call – email – call – call

If the hiring manager answers the phone, you can give them a 15-second scripted message selling your strengths and saying you would like to get together to find out about opportunities at their company. Even if there are no job openings, it’s good to meet with a hiring manager, because they may know of a job in a different department or another company or know about you for the next time a job comes up in their department.

These days, however, most busy people can be difficult to get a hold of, so you will probably be leaving a voice-mail message. When you do, tell them you’ll send them an email – if you’ve been able to get their email address.

When you send the email explaining that you would like to set up an appointment to come talk to them, also include a resume, if you have a good one, or a JIST card, which just has your contact information and a short listing of your abilities and strengths. A JIST card is perfect for someone who has gaps in their resume or doesn’t have an extensive history of employment.

If you don’t hear back from them by phone or email in a couple of days, call them again. If you don’t hear the second time, wait for a week and try once more. If that doesn’t work, move on and continue calling others on your list.

Just walk in

Visit any employer, factory or office that interests you. Be friendly to the receptionist or whoever you meet when you walk in and ask to speak to the hiring manager of the department you’re interested in. It would be best if you called ahead to ask who that would be, so you can ask for that person by name.

If they’re willing to meet with you, talk to them about your skills and ask them for advice. If the hiring manager isn’t there, ask to talk to someone else in the department. Just have a brief chat, about five minutes. This may establish a valuable contact. When you call the hiring manager later, you can mention you met their colleague and are interested in learning more about working at their company.

A numbers game

Looking for a job is a numbers game. The more contacts you make, the more people you call, the more resumes or JIST cards you send out and the more interviews you go on, the greater your chance of finding someone who will be happy to hire you. If you look at it this way, you’ll be more likely to keep on calling than to get discouraged. Experts say that it is actually your job search activity that will sustain your spirit and keep you going until you find a job.

We’d love to hear success stories from people who used this technique. Please send them to


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Job club can help put those in reentry on path to employment

iStock_000023019685_SmallA job club is an excellent way to help those coming out of prison or jail as they embark on a path to employment. These clubs meet regularly, offering members a chance to discuss the challenges they face in their job search and hold each other accountable.

Job clubs can be particularly beneficial for those in reentry. Few may know this better than Sue Eastman, who developed a job club for that population for SE Works, a Portland, Ore., nonprofit that deals with workforce development. As Portland’s only workforce center serving those in reentry, the organization gets a lot of foot traffic, including people from a local halfway house.

Eastman’s organization’s job club meets four times per week, and members must come to at least two of the meetings. Between 10 and 30 people show up at each one, which lasts from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Employers also come to the meetings on occasion to talk about job searching and do mock interviews. Such nearby businesses as a new store may also come to hire employees.

What makes it different

Eastman started the job club two years ago and says, “It’s not that different from other job clubs, except for  learning to deal with “the box.” (the box on application forms asking if the applicant has ever been convicted). But actually it is different in many ways.

Those who have been locked up for long periods may not be proficient with such technology as computers and cell phones that is essential for many jobs, for example.

Eastman had inherited a curriculum, but it was old and referred to people as ex-felons. “I try to get people to not look backward but to look forward,” she says. “You can’t call them ex-felons. Call them job seekers.”

Although she has moved to a new position, Eastman still sometimes leads SE Works’ job club. At the beginning of each meeting she asks them what they need from her that day and let’s them make the decision about what to discuss.

The most difficult thing they need to learn is not how to fill out the forms or even talk about their backgrounds but how to talk the language of the employer. If you can’t talk the language of the employer, the employer can’t relate to you, she says.

Ten tips for a better job club experience

Easton offers 10 tips for job club members and their professional instructor leaders:

  1. Ask them to do a Google search on themselves, then post some really nice pictures of themselves on Flikr. That way when someone tags them those really nice photos will appear on the first page and the mug shot will come out on the second page.
  2. Have an instructor who is knowledgeable enough to drop what they intended to do and do something else. Also the instructor shouldn’t throw too much at the job club members. They have so much going on in their lives.
  3. Do “a week in the life of” and let them sit down and figure out what else they have to do that week and where the job search fits in. It you tell them it takes 40 hours a week they’re going to lose it.
  4. Once they get a survival or transition job, don’t push them to go to the next step too quickly. They often fear that if they have to move on they won’t make it. Life is like Simon Says. Take two giant steps forward, three baby steps backward, and they will eventually get to the other side.
  5. Make collages. Many of them are visual people. Tell them now that they have a job and their first paycheck to cut out pictures of what happens when they have that job. They can open a bank account, maybe buy a car, get some medical taken care of.
  6. Play games like Job Search Jeopardy with fake money. Say “I’ll take resumes for 200.” They have a great time, learn something and get little prizes.
  7. Make sure to put their past where it belongs. If someone was convicted 20 years ago, they’re not the same person they were. Don’t let their past define them. They’re not a bank robber today.
  8. Use the rearview mirror and the front windshield of a car exercise. Tell them to write everything about who they are on that rear view mirror. Put it away because they’re not going to look at the past anymore. They never have a chance to make a new beginning, but they can make a new end.
  9. Then give them a windshield and tell them to write down everything they see ahead. That’s their new beginning. You’re in a wretched car and it needs new tires. Then we get the bumper on. You drive down a road and it’s a dead end and you have to turn around and come back. Everybody has that ability to move forward, but you have to learn how to do it.
  10. Play red flag. Write all barriers to employment except criminal background on the red flags. Then post these on a board and figure out what you can do to overcome them.

It’s all about learning to be a job seeker.

Check with your local American Job Center to see if they have a job club for those in reentry or know of one in the area where you live.


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you. creates free WordPress tutorial

unnamedTo develop a skill that is in high demand and that can result in paid employment would solve one major problem many formerly incarcerated people face after leaving jail or prison.

Erik (who prefers not to reveal his last name for privacy reasons) is taking the website he created to help ex-felons search for a job one step further. He’s putting together a set of lessons to teach people how to build websites using WordPress.

His story is not unique. He got into drugs at age 17 and became a convicted felon by age 20. A year before his prison term was up he was transferred to a community reentry program with a supportive staff, which he said changed his life.

After leaving prison and moving to Ohio, Erik couldn’t find any but the lowest level work at Wendy’s. The “box” got in the way, and hiring managers couldn’t look beyond the fact that he was an ex-felon.

But that challenge nurtured his entrepreneurial spirit, and he became a freelance web developer to help support himself. He hopes to help other ex-offenders learn to support themselves in the same way, since website development is a skill that can pay a decent wage. “It’s a field where your experience is more important than your background,” Erik says.

It’s not only a great skill to be able to do as a job, but it can also help anyone who is putting together a small business create and maintain their own website for free.

The lessons are both in written and video form, with the information very clearly explained so most people will be able to create a WordPress site by following the tutorials. Erik now has two lessons up on and will add more soon, creating enough information for someone to be able to build their own website.

“After that, the lessons will cover other things that people need to know about, like hosting, search engine optimization, marketing, building backlinks and getting into ways of monetizing it (the website),” he says.

Erik is hoping to establish a broader curriculum, drawing in other people with complementary skills. He’s lined up someone to teach a class in how to make money online and is looking for volunteers to create more courses.

The ultimate goal, he says, “is to have a better life. I can’t really force people to take the classes. I can’t hold their hand, but I can try my best to teach them skills that they can take into the job market.”


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Jails to Jobs writes how-to-create-a-tattoo-removal-clinic manual

nd_yag_mini_laser_tattoo_removal_machine_nd-506We were contacted not too long ago by a representative from Dr. Tattoff, a tattoo removal clinic chain, informing us that the company is opening a new clinic and is interested in removing tattoos of certain people free of charge, if those tattoos are preventing them from getting a job.

This clinic’s desire to offer pro bono tattoo removals supports our belief that there are many companies, nonprofits and individual doctors, nurses and tattoo artists out there who see a great need for this type of service and want to provide it.

In fact, we know the need is there. Our directory of free and low-cost tattoo removal clinics, which we launched last spring on our webste, along with the blog articles we’ve written about tattoo removal, get far and away the greatest number of hits of any subject we have ever written about. And they get many hits on a daily basis.

Our directory has more than 140 clinics in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Although more than 40% are in California, we’re hearing from people across the country about what they’re doing and that they want to be included in the directory. We are confident as time goes by more and more programs throughout the U.S. will be added to our directory.

Because there is such an interest in this subject, we have decided to write a manual on how to set up a free or low cost tattoo removal clinic or program. We’re hoping it will serve as a resource for anyone who might be interested in setting up such a program. Many of the people we’ve talked to as we do our research and write the case studies that will be included in this manual have told us that they are happy to talk to anyone who would like to start a program similar to theirs.

The case studies in the manual include everything from nonprofits working to keep youth out of gangs and city government gang intervention programs to a Seventh Day Adventist Church that previously had a program in Los Angeles and a small San Francisco suburb that includes tattoo removal as part of a job readiness program.

We hope that this manual will help connect organizations working in isolation and organizations just getting going to share information about the successes they’ve achieved and the challenges they face.

Although currently a work in progress, the manual will include:

  • A history of tattoo removal
  • The science behind the laser process and what makes it work.
  • Statistics on people who have tattoos and what others (including employers) think of them
  • Barriers that exist for people with visible tattoos
  • The process of getting tattoos removed
  • What questions patients and potential patients might ask
  • Manufacturers of tattoo removal laser devices and what they produce
  • Success stories from those who have had their tattoos removed
  • Tattoo removal laser device rental companies
  • Laser tattoo removal schools
  • Professional associations
  • Case studies of free and low-cost tattoo removal programs
  • Where to search for funding to start a clinic
  • Ideas of other services, such as resume writing and job readiness skills assistance, that can be included as part of the program
  • An online forum offering a community to share best practices and ideas and ask questions

If you know anybody who might want to contribute information to the manual or be the subject of one of our case studies, please contact us at


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

A New Way of Life serves as model program for women in reentry


Susan Burton

Fifteen years ago, when Susan Burton began her work helping women who were leaving prison, she would pick them up where the bus left them off in south Los Angeles and take them home with her. People would throw rocks at her house.

Today they bring flowers and supplies that the women need to get back on their feet. And Burton’s organization, A New Way of Life, manages five transitional houses, which served 62 women and 23 children last year. It also runs a legal clinic and leadership training programs that reach hundreds more.

As someone who was in and out of the criminal justice system for two decades herself, Burton well understands her clients’ situations and how to help them.

“A New Way of Life has been a first chance for them not a second chance. They came from families and environments where they never had a chance,” she says. “They survived trauma after trauma and have responded so well to opportunity. It’s like the thirst being quenched.” And what she does seems to work. The recidivism rate for those in the program is just 20 percent.

Women stay in her homes from nine days to 18 months, depending on their needs. “The main requirement is that people want to change their lives and they’re willing to take care of themselves, bathe themselves and be medication compliant,” Burton says.

Although her staff works with residents on resumes, A New Way of Life deals more with the basics of providing a place to stay and working to reunite women with their children and refers women to other organizations that can help them find jobs.

Legal clinic helps clients expunge conviction records

Through a partnership with UCLA School of Law’s Critical Race Studies Program, ANWOL’s Reentry Legal Clinic deals with one very real barrier to employment – criminal records. Two staff attorneys and another 10 or so volunteer attorneys and  other community volunteers run the monthly clinic. They help about 400 men and women each year expunge their conviction records and make sure their employment rights are not being violated.

Although A New Way of Life deals with most of the practical needs of women in reentry, Burton wants to create a dialogue so that her clients and others understand what has happened to them within a broader context.

To do this, she created the LEAD (Leadership, Education, Action and Dialogue) Project, a program in which women who live in her houses meet biweekly to discuss issues related to incarceration and the prison industrial complex.

“Many times our residents think that what happens to them is acceptable. They deserved to be locked up,” she says. “The LEAD Project opens their mind to see what can make things different.“

Another group that she created, Women Organizing for Justice Leadership Training Institute, is an intensive four-month program that brings 30 formerly incarcerated women together twice monthly. Participants develop leadership skills, learn about community organizing and take a critical look at the criminal justice system.

Through all these efforts, Burton has made a substantial impact helping women navigate their post-release reentry. “The most important thing that needs to happen is that they have a place where they can feel a part of community. Where they feel like they’re valued. And from there, it’s just making one accomplishment and overcoming one barrier after the other,” she says.

Those interested in staying in one of Susan’s homes can apply online.


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Project Rebound helps formerly incarcerated get college education

rebound_homeLack of an education is one of a multitude of barriers that those coming out of jail or prison face. A college degree may seemingly be out of reach for many ex-offenders, but not those who participate in San Francisco State University’s Project Rebound. This innovative program has a long history and a bright future as a blueprint for similar endeavors elsewhere. It was founded in 1967 by John Irwin, who, after a five year stint at Soledad Prison, went to college, earned a PhD and became a noted sociologist and San Francisco State professor. He also saw the need to create a means of helping other ex-offenders get  — or complete — an education post-release. With the vision of turning former prisoners to scholars, Project Rebound, now part of Associated Students Inc., the student government organization, has helped hundreds of formerly incarcerated people earn four-year degrees. In the past eight years alone, since current Executive Director Jason Bell took over, more than 100 people have graduated from San Francisco State and more than 300 have been admitted as part of the program. Getting into San Francisco State is not easy for many applicants, but it can be especially difficult for those just out of prison, since they may have a lot of gaps in their educational experience. To help them, Project Rebound acts as part of a special admissions program. “They have admissions assigned to special caseloads,” Bell says. “We do additional advocacy for our students, just like is done for athletes and international students. Sometimes, if the person is outright denied at first, we can fight for them.”  In fact, that happens quite a lot, he adds. He and his staff of four – all formerly incarcerated themselves — recruit potential students by visiting local jails and prisons like San Quentin, where they talk to inmates and distribute fliers. The program has become so well known that Bell says they get letters from every prison in California and also from some out of state, since California is sending some of its prisoners to out-of-state facilities in the name of population reduction. Sometimes Bell’s staff corresponds with prisoners for years before they get out, helping them prepare the way for their future education. “Many of them can go straight into San Francisco State within months, or within the same year, of getting out,” he says. Once the program participants are admitted to S.F. State, they get special assistance with such things as lunches and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) passes, as well as $200 for books, all thanks to grants from such outside funders as the Columbia Foundation and the Registry Foudation. S.F. State student interns – 40 in the second semester of 2013 – work one-on-one with Project Rebound students to help them navigate the system when they’re new and connect them with tutors and other services to help them succeed. Although due to a lack of resources, the program does not offer any job placement, but Bell says that recently he’s been getting emails from ex-offender friendly employers who are interested in allowing people a fair chance at employment. Over its nearly half century of existence, Project Rebound has changed the lives of more people than it can count. And it will achieve an even wider reach by assisting other colleges that want to launch similar programs. Bell and his team helped New Jersey’s Rutgers University establish a program about five years ago, and are working with Cal State University Fullerton and San Diego State University on a similar effort to help formerly incarcerated individuals in southern California get a college education. For more information contact:

Project Rebound
Associated Students Inc.
Cesar Chavez Student Center
1650 Holloway Avenue, T-138
San Francisco, CA 94132-1722
(415) 405-0954, FAX: (415) 338-0522

Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

As a job seeker with a criminal record, you are not alone

iStock_000002144669_SmallThe high rate of incarceration among American men may give some degree of consolation to ex-offender job seekers. In fact, you can use this fact to reassure potential employers that your situation is not really all that unusual.

According to a study by criminal justice and criminology professors from four universities published this month in the journal Crime & Delinquency, by age 18, about 26 percent of Hispanic males, 30 percent of black males and 22 percent of white males have been arrested for something other than a minor traffic violation. By age 23, the figure rises to 44 percent of Hispanic males, 49 percent of black males and 38 percent of white males.

Females have a much lower arrest rate. By age 18, 12 percent of Hispanic, black and white females have been arrested at least once. By age 23, the statistics increase to 16 percent for Hispanic females, 18 percent for black females and 20 percent for white females.

The study did not rely on arrest records. Rather it used self-reported arrest history data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, conducted by the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The project began to interview a representative sample of 9,000 youth in 1997 on a variety of subjects that included education, employment, relationships and lifestyle issues and followed the group with annual interviews through 2008.

Well, some of you might ask, “How can I use this information, since I was first arrested when I was older than 23?” Many people are surprised to learn that one in four adult Americans – about 65 million people – has an arrest or conviction that will show up in a routine criminal background check. That translates to a tremendous number of potential job seekers and employees.

The arrest records of those in the survey and the percentage of the population as a whole with a criminal record prove that indeed, you are not alone. And you can use this information to show potential employers that there are many others like you and that they should give you a chance to prove yourself at a job.

And they won’t be doing anything all that abnormal or unusual. A Harris International survey of 2,298 U.S. hiring mangers and human resource professionals conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder in 2012 found that 51 percent of those surveyed reported that their organizations have at one time hired someone with a criminal record.

The best way to bring up the subject may be during your turnaround talk, a technique created by Larry Robbin, a nationally known expert in the area of workforce development. The turnaround talk is a chance for you to tell your story to the person interviewing you and turn their attitude around to seeing you as the capable and unique person you are.

You might want to start out by saying something like, “Before we start (or before we go any further), I have something I’d like to talk to you about. I, like many other men (or women) my age, have been arrested. In fact, by the age of 23 ….. (site statistics above). Or say,You might be surprised to learn that one out of four American adults has a criminal record.”

After this introduction, continue to briefly talk about the crime you committed and what you learned from the experience and to assure them that it won’t happen again. You also will want to stress how you’ve turned your life around since you committed whatever crime you were arrested for.

Be sure to talk about any classes you took or activities you participated in while incarcerated, jobs you held either inside prison or after you were released, volunteer work you might have done and whatever 12-step programs you might have participated in if you have a substance-abuse problem. Each of these can be good indications to the hiring manager of your rehabilitation and eagerness for a fresh start.

To further press your turnaround case you should also prepare a turnaround packet.  This should include such items as certificates from training courses you completed, letters of reference, photos of volunteer activities you have participated in, hobbies you might have like gardening or car restoration, and several reference letters.

The turnaround packet, together with the turnaround talk, will go a long way to convince any potential employer that you’re serious about starting a new life and are a good candidate for whatever job you’re applying for.


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.