Life after prison: Master guitar maker decides to tell his story

Robert VincentWhen leaving prison, should you tell the story of your incarceration or keep it a secret? And how long do you wait before you do so?

It took master guitar maker Robert Vincent 10 years to tell his story. Now that he’s done it, he’s glad he did, but doubts remain about the effect it could have on his guitar business. So far, however, people’s reactions have been positive, and the story of how prison changed his life serves as an inspiration.

Reason for incarceration

Vincent was incarcerated after an unfortunate incident early in his adult life.

“I got involved in an altercation with another group of young men. One of the men in my group pulled out a gun and shot a man in the other group,” he says. “One young man lost his life. I got charged with second-degree murder along with the triggerman and was sentenced to 16 to life. I entered the prison system when I was 21 and was released in 2005.”

After serving 3-1/2 years at Pelican Bay, Vincent was transferred to Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, Calif. There he continued to be involved in an arts program, but what Tracy had to offer changed his life.

One day the teacher of a guitar making class asked for help, because the men were having trouble spraying lacquer on the guitars, and before incarceration Vincent had been an automotive painter. After spraying a few guitars, Vincent decided to build one himself.

Guitar making became a passion

A year later, well known luthier and teacher Kenny Hill gave Vincent a book on the design elements of classical guitar. “It struck a chord with me. I dove in and started studying as much as I could – whatever I could get my hands on,” he says.

Vincent went on to complete about 30 instruments inside prison. He donated several of them to an auction benefitting a local charity, as well as to another event sponsored by PBS in Sacramento.

“That gave me a head start. My instruments were on the market and people were interested in them,” Vincent says.

Meanwhile, his prison job assignment was to work in the arts program. He took care of the equipment and maintained the workshops spaces and started to teach the inmates guitar building. Kenny Hill would come in four times a year to critique the guitars that were being made and offer instruction and advice.

Vincent learned much from visiting artists

Working in the arts program brought him into contact with the many artists – painters, printmakers and ceramic artists – who visited the prison. “Dealing with the artists helped me grow as an artist. All of them were helpful and encouraging,” he says.

Vincent’s work in the arts program and being able to create classical guitars changed his life.

“I wasn’t just isolated for 16 years with yard talk. Because the program was so popular, the (prison’s) public relations officer would bring in tours, local politicians and college students,” Vincent says. “Communicating with other people besides guards and inmates was a tremendous opportunity for me.”

Involvement in the arts also gave his two sons – one was five and the other two at the time Vincent was incarcerated – a reason to be proud of their father. When they visited him every month, the conversation often turned to the arts. Now his older son is a practicing artist and the other a woodworker.

Harry Belafonte orders guitar for Carlos Santana

In addition, his guitars gained such a great reputation that Harry Belafonte commissioned him to build a guitar for Carlos Santana.

Arts program made it all possible

“I thought about what happened to me in the first place and wanted to better myself so that it would never happen again. I don’t know if that would have been possible without the arts program,” he says.

Upon release in 2005, Vincent went to work in his brother’s wrecking yard business and began to purchase the equipment and materials to start his own guitar making shop, which he now operates out of his garage in San Diego.

His guitars are for classical guitarists who play concerts and sell for about $7,000 each. It’s a small market, and his dealers take a major cut, so he characterizes himself as a starving artist but one with few expenses. Still he’s doing what he loves and has made a name for himself.

Finally ready to tell his story

And now, more than 10 years later, he’s ready to tell his story.

“My guitars have been pretty successful, but for years I never mentioned that I learned in prison. I was eager to tell the story, but it wasn’t perceived so well by a pretty well known dealer my first year out. So I quit telling the story after that until this year,” he says.

In fact, in the past he did speaking engagements at conferences and colleges under the agreement that there would be no Internet information mentioning his name.

“For 10 years I would Google my name every month or two to make sure my story wasn’t out there – somebody else’s version of it,” he says. And then one day, a persistent reporter from San Francisco’s KQED radio station called wanting to report his story. And it was published in June.

“I decided it was finally time to get the story out there, and it felt really good,” Vincent says. He called his dealers in New York and Los Angeles. They didn’t care about his background and were supportive.

In fact, he hasn’t experienced anything negative but is still a bit unsettled. “I don’t know whether I’ll live to regret this, but it’s a huge relief to tell the story,” he says.

Should others do the same?

“It’s a personal decision. And I really don’t know the answer to that yet,” he says.

 

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.

Seth Sundberg used incarceration experience to create Prison Bars

Prison Bars

Seth Sundberg, founder of Prison Bars (center).

A growing number of inmates and those in reentry are using skills they learned in prison and in post-release programs to start their own businesses. But it’s not easy.

Just ask Seth Sundberg, founder and CEO of Prison Bars, a company that launched commercial production of its “criminally delicious” snack bars in late September.

The former professional basketball player – for the Los Angeles Lakers and 10 European teams – and mortgage company branch manager was convicted of tax fraud and served five years in prison where he worked in the kitchen.

One day he took out a box of chicken labeled “unfit for human consumption,” an experience that ultimately inspired him to search for healthy things to eat and create nutritious handmade granola bars that he sold to other prisoners. They were so popular that Sundberg not only made a fair amount of pocket money but once released thought they might have appeal on the outside as well.

Defy Ventures offered support system

Fortunately for him, about the time he left prison New York-headquartered Defy Ventures was expanding to San Francisco. This entrepreneurship development program works with formerly incarcerated individuals (and now works inside prisons as well) to help them create businesses.

While some participants need to develop the skills to run a business, for Sundberg the organization benefited him in other ways.

“I had the skill set to do the business, but had it not been for the support system at Defy and the accountability system of Defy, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” he says. “It’s not easy to come back to life and repair relationships and everything and start a new business. Without that support and the structure of Defy this would not have happened.”

But happen it did, and now Prison Bars, which manufactures snack bars that are non-GMO and gluten free, has eight employees in its day-to-day operations. Five of them, including Sundberg, were incarcerated, and most of them he knew from prison.

After graduating from Defy in October 2015, Sundberg and a team began to make Prison Bars by hand in a commercial kitchen in San Francisco. The company also took tons of pre-orders, did events and sold T-shirts and coffee mugs to get the word out.

And the word is getting out.

“We have commitments from Bi-Rite Grocers to be in a couple of their stores,” Sundberg says. “Our primary market is local tech companies that provide all kinds of snacks for their employees and want to have a social impact. We have commitments from Google and are talking with some other large tech companies as well. That’s our primary model. We will get into retail distributions as a secondary piece.”

Need to be patient

One of the biggest challenges Sundberg is facing is the need to be patient and not grow his company too fast, but patience is something one develops in prison, he says.

One of his goals is to educate people on the issues related to incarceration, and that takes time. “Part of this is raising awareness among people who may not have been involved with incarceration. There are a lot of people who are receptive, but there’s still a lot of pushback as well,” he says. “We want to be a catalyst to start conversations.”

Now that the business is in commercial production, the next step for Prison Bars is to raise additional funding. He’s already taken out two Kiva zip loans, partly for the exposure that the organization offers.

Sundberg is currently creating bigger fundraising plans, although venture capital is not in the mix at this point. “We’re going to take on private investors. We took on two small private investors, and they’re going to get involved with the next round of funding and introduce us to more people,” he says. His goal is to expand inventory and develop new flavors.

Tips for budding reentry entrepreneurs

Sundberg has advice for those coming out of prison who may want to start their own businesses.

“One of Defy’s key points is to prove your concept quickly and become profitable quickly. A lot of guys inside have a lot of time to think and have a lot of grand visions, and those are great, but they are for company number two,” he says.

Beyond that, “Stay with it. Stay humble. Nothing is easy. The reentry piece is especially tough. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The only way successful reentry occurs is through community. Be vulnerable and let people help you.”

 

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.

World Kindness Day reminds us how to behave benevolently

World Kindness DayNovember 13 is World Kindness Day, and it gives us an opportunity to reflect on how performing acts of kindness can not only improve the lives of others but your own as well.

Performing acts of kindness can help reduce stress, improve your sense of well being, increase self-esteem and, by focusing on the needs of others, help you forget your own problems. And, overall, it will just make you feel better.

Scientific evidence for “helper’s high”

In fact, there is scientific evidence that supports this. Psychologists call it the “helper’s high.” When you do good things for others, your brain releases endorphins, the same chemicals released during exercising. These endorphins make you feel good and can improve your outlook on life – something that those in reentry can use as they face the challenges of a job search or getting their lives back together again after incarceration.

Some acts of kindness you can perform

Acts of kindness can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They can be so-called random acts of kindness, like:

  • Giving up your seat on a bus to an elderly or pregnant passenger.
  • Shoveling snow for a neighbor who can’t do it themself.
  • Cooking a meal for someone who is going through difficult times.
  • Preparing a sandwich or other snack to give to a homeless person.
  • Calling a friend or relative you haven’t talked to for a while.
  • Taking some cookies or other treats to a new neighbor.
  • Picking up trash in your neighborhood.

Beyond random acts, you can do good on a regular basis by becoming a volunteer. Volunteering will not only widen your circle of contacts as you search for a job, but it can also teach you new skills and provide experience you may be able to include on your resume.

In addition, it can make you feel better and more energetic, traits that will boost your well being as you search for a job. In a Harris Interactive national survey of 3,351 adults, conducted from February 9-18, 2013 on behalf of United HealthGroup:

  • 76% of people who had volunteered within the previous 12 months reported that the experience of volunteering made them feel healthier.
  • 94% of those who had volunteered within the previous 12 months reported that the experience of volunteering improved their minds.

Whether you’re interested in walking dogs at an animal shelter, organizing donations at a food bank or recruiting volunteers for a fundraising event, sign up to volunteer. It may put you one step closer towards finding a job.

 

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.

ApprenticeshipUSA grants to increase apprenticeship programs

ApprenticeshipUSAThose interested in apprenticeships may now have more opportunities than ever before, thanks to efforts by the U.S. Department of Labor to expand apprenticeship programs across the United States.

On October 21, the White House announced that the DOL has awarded more than $50 million in ApprenticeshipUSA State Expansion Grants. The applicants for these grants included state economic development and workforce agencies and technical college systems, among others.

The grants, ranging in amount from $700,000 to $2.7 million, are designed to:

  • Help states incorporate apprenticeships into their education and workforce systems.
  • Involve industry and other partners in expanding apprenticeships to new sectors and underserved worker populations.
  • Encourage and work with employers to create new programs.
  • Promote more diversity and inclusion in apprenticeship programs.

ApprenticeshipUSA State Expansion Grant recipients

Thirty-six agencies in states from Hawaii to New Hampshire received ApprenticeshipUSA State Expansion Grants to cover programs created with a variety of partners, plans and goals. Here are a few examples of the recipients and their plans for how they will use the grant money:

Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Juneau, Alaska

The department is using its $1,019,985 grant to fund the Healthy Alaska Through Apprenticeship project. This project will create healthcare apprenticeship opportunities that include jobs such as community healthcare worker and medical administrative assistant.

California Department of Industrial Relations, Oakland, California

The department was awarded an $1.8 million grant that will fund its Investing in California’s Future project. The goal is to double the number of registered apprenticeships during the next decade and encourage high-growth, non traditional industries – advanced manufacturing, transportation, information technology and healthcare – to develop apprenticeships.

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Tallahassee, Florida

The Florida ApprenticeshipUSA project, funded with a $1,498,269 grant, will create 2,500 new apprentices over 3-1/2 years. The public-private partnership will address the state’s critical demand for skilled and diverse workers in health services, construction, IT and manufacturing.

Iowa Workforce Development, Des Moines, Iowa

Using its $1.8 million grant, the Iowa Workforce Development agency has launched the Innovative Opportunities with Apprenticeships (IOWA) project. It plans to target underserved populations – ex-offenders, individuals with disabilities, minorities, women and out-of-school youth – who will be able to receive training in such nontraditional sectors as cyber security, IT, health care and business services.

Illinois Department of Commerce and Opportunity, Chicago, Illinois

With a $1.3 million grant to fund its Illinois Apprenticeship Plus System, the department plans to increase opportunities for women, people of color and individuals transitioning from incarceration, among others, in the transportation, manufacturing, healthcare and distribution, and logistics industries.

Indiana Department of Workforce Development, Indianapolis, Indiana

The department will work with partners that include the Indiana Department of Corrections, Ivy Tech Community College and representatives of industry to expand registered apprenticeships statewide with its $1.3 million grant.

Louisiana Workforce Commission, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The commission’s Expanding Opportunities Today to Meet Tomorrows Needs project received a $1.55 million grant. It will use the money to double the number of registered apprentices in the state, as well as develop pre-apprenticeship training programs.

Thousands of new apprenticeships on the horizon

With these and many other projects in the works, there will be thousands of new apprenticeships coming up in the next few years.

As a result, those looking for a stable, well paid career with paid training and who qualify should have an increasing number of opportunities. These opportunities will not only come in traditional industries like construction and transportation, but in work sectors, including IT and high-tech manufacturing, that haven’t employed many apprentices in the past.

 

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.

Cold calling your way to a job

cold callingWhile it’s certainly not the easiest thing to do, cold calling can be the most effective way to find a job.

Forget sending out countless resumes through job boards. They mostly go into a black hole, never to be seen – by anyone but you – again. But pick up the phone. It can be your most important job search tool.

Since some job experts say that as many as 80% of all job openings are unadvertised, this may in fact be the only way to find the majority of jobs. And there’ll be less competition.

While you’ll want to avoid human resources departments whose job it is to weed applicants out, using the phone to call hiring managers can bring results.

But remember it’s a numbers game. It may take many “no’s” till you get to a “yes,” so keep on calling. Focus on your activity and momentum building and not whether you hear a “no” or “yes.”

Put together a calling list

The first thing you have to do is put together a list of maybe 100 businesses to call where you would be interested in working.

Two possible resources for this are your local phone book – paper or online version – and Business Finder, an online tool created by the American Job Center. This free database offers the name of the business, its address and phone number and key contact people with their titles. The Business Finder also includes each company’s business description, industry code, number of employees, website and even the distance of the business from your location. It offers a variety of ways to search for businesses.

American Job Center also has other resources you may want to consider for finding prospective employers.

Determine who to call

Always find out who you should call in each business. That hiring manager is typically the manager of the department in which you’d like to work. If it’s a small company (say under 25 employees), you might want to get in touch with the company manager, owner or president.

Do your homework. If you don’t already have it, look at the company’s website to see if you can find the name of the person you should talk to. If not, call the main number and ask the receptionist by pressing “O.”

What to say

Say to the person who answers, “I am trying to find out the name of the person who is the manager of (department). How do you spell their last name? What is their official title?” If they are not sure, ask if they have a company directory handy and can look it up. And make sure you ask, “By the way, what’s that person’s email address?”

Then you can later call back and either ask for that person or find them through the electronic directory and talk to them directly. Prepare a script, so you will have confidence, but don’t read from it. You can use your 15-second elevator pitch, a short sales pitch about yourself and what you bring to the job. (There are many examples online, and here’s a site with a variety.) You can also use information from your JIST card to prepare what you’re going to say.

Be enthusiastic, sincere in your interest, and remember to smile. They can’t see you but can sense and feel your smile, and believe it or not, a smile can make you more relaxed and confident.

Consider calling after business hours

If you’re too nervous to call them during office hours, call after hours and leave a message on their voice mail. Use your 15-second elevator pitch emphasizing your strengths.

It might be something like:

“Hi, my name is _______ and my phone number is ________. I love doing________ and am really good at it. I’m confident that I have the experience that could help your company succeed. I think I can offer you (give your three top assets).”

“Again, my number is_____ (say it and then repeat it) I’d like to get together to talk more about how I would be a good fit at (company name). I would appreciate it if you could give me some information about working at your company. As soon as I get off the phone. I’m going to follow up with an email and hope to hear from you soon.”

Send an email with your JIST card attached, and if you don’t hear back in a couple of days, call again.

If you don’t hear back within a week, call one more time, and say something like:

“This is ______. My phone number is ____ (if voice-mail). I’ve left a couple of voice mail messages and know how things can slip through the cracks. I don’t mean to be a pest but I hope you’re the type who appreciates persistence. I just wanted to let you know that I think I can contribute to your company and would love to talk to you about it. I’d appreciate hearing back from you, but if I don’t I promise not to call you another time. Again, this is ______ and my number is _____. I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

Although you may not hear back from all of the hiring managers you contact, those who do call back will help you get one step closer to the job you’re looking for. Remember it’s a numbers game. And never give up. Every “no’ brings you closer to a “yes.”

 

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.

Uber CEO offers second chance to those with criminal records

Uber CEOIt’s not often that executives of well-known companies come out publicly in favor of giving those with criminal records a chance in the hiring process. But that’s what Travis Kalanick, co-founder and CEO of Uber, did earlier this month in an Op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.

According to him, the impetus was California’s Proposition 47, which was passed in November 2014 and reclassified some nonviolent crimes that had previously been felonies as misdemeanors. Uber aligned its hiring practices accordingly.

“As a result, 3,300 people have signed up to drive with Uber to earn a living and stand on their own two feet — in one state (California) alone,” he wrote. “Imagine how many more life-changing opportunities we could create if other states followed suit.”

Kalanick’s attitude toward criminal justice evolves

Running Uber has changed Kalanick’s ideas about criminal justice reform.

“I’d never really thought deeply about criminal justice reform before starting Uber. Now I realize reform is desperately needed. For example, the FBI records many companies use to do background checks don’t include up-to-date data on whether an arrest resulted in a charge or conviction. So if someone is arrested and subsequently acquitted, their “record” may not show that they’re innocent,” he went on to state in the S.F. Chronicle piece.

No matter how you may feel about Uber or working in the so-called “sharing economy,” signing up as an Uber driver may give people in reentry or those having trouble finding work a chance to earn a little extra money or even gain self employment. Those who can’t find full-time work may choose to drive for Uber part time as a second gig – especially during the busy hours when they’re likely to make more money by picking up more riders or the late hours when rates are increased.

Uber driver pay scales

According to press reports – and drivers themselves – the pay for being an Uber driver is far less than Uber claims. In a May 27, 2014 blog posting in the Uber online newsroom, the company claims that the potential income for its UberX drivers is as much as $90,766 per year in New York City and $74,191 in San Francisco.

One Uber driver and blogger at the site I Drive With Uber says he makes between $20 and $25 per hour (in Los Angeles), and the average Uber Driver makes $19 per hour natioinwide. He also says that the average Uber driver in the U.S. can make about $40,000 after expenses and taxes but doesn’t mention whether car wear and tear is included in expenses.

Gary Campbell, a former aerospace engineer who used to drive for Uber and Lyft part time while working at Boeing, left his full-time job to be a blogger known as The Rideshare Guy.

He publishes a free Uber Driver Training Guide on his site for those who might be considering driving for Uber but want to know more about what that experience might be like. The guide covers all the basics, from pay scales and sign-up bonuses to driver and car requirements.

Those with criminal records who decide they might like to be Uber drivers may be happy to know that the company has banned the box on its application form.

And CEO Kalanick has created an opportunity for those with ambitions and willing to work hard to get back on their feet.

“Crime is wrong,” he says. “But once a person has served their time, we need to give them a second chance. Consigning millions of Americans to a life of unemployment — with all the costs that entails — may be the easier option. It’s certainly not the best one for our country.”

 

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.

Why you might want to consider working for a small business

work for a small businessWith all the challenges facing those in reentry, it’s important to create a job search plan that is realistic, focused and tailored to the type of work you are good at. And you may want to include small businesses in the mix. Or concentrate on them exclusively.

And there’s an excellent reason for this. It’s one that might surprise you. According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses provide 55 percent of all jobs and 66 percent of all net new jobs that have been created since the 1970s.

And it’s not just the number of jobs created. The number of small business themselves have increased 49 percent since 1982. Think about these numbers for a while. And then think about the advantages small business might be able to provide.

Benefits of employment at a small business

At a small business you will:

  • Learn a lot about your job and how a business operates very quickly.
  • If you take initiative, you’ll be able to get experience in a variety of areas.
  • You will probably take on more responsibility than you would at a larger company.
  • After you’ve offered value to the employer and learned the business, it may be something you could replicate in the future and become an entrepreneur yourself.

A small business can also offer entry possibilities that big corporations might not. First of all, there may not be the dreaded “box” on the application. Depending on the size, small businesses may not have human resources departments. The owner may do the hiring.

And since the owner is also running a business, they might not have time to wade through a pile of resumes. Be proactive and pick up the phone and call them – or drop by in person. Even better, try to find someone you know who might know them. LinkedIn is good for this. Having a referral is always the best way to approach someone when looking for a job.

Since most small business owners are entrepreneurs and often have to sell themselves and their businesses, they will appreciate your initiative.

Do your homework

Before contacting a small business owner or manager, however, do your homework. Pick out a handful of companies you really want to work for. Local chambers of commerce are excellent resource for this, since most of them have online directories listing the companies of their members.

Once you’ve chosen a handful of companies, learn everything you can about them either from the company website or their Facebook page and by studying up on businesses that might be their competition.

Come up with some ideas about how you could help improve the product they create, the service they provide or the way their business operates. Then, when you meet with the owner, you can share your ideas.

And knowing a lot about the business will help you in the interview. Although human resources personnel are trained to do interviews, many small business owners are neither very good at interviewing nor enjoy doing it. Your knowledge will help them feel at ease and can ensure a steady flow of conversation.

In addition to your elevator pitch, your well thought out list of ways you can help the company and your knowledge of the business, bring along a handful of questions to ask.

Be sure to ask for the job

And at the end of the interview, don’t forget to ask for the job, if you really want it. Say something like:

“I appreciate your time and enjoyed talking to you, I think I can contribute to your company, and I’d really like to work for you.”

If you don’t happen to be hired, follow up telling them that you were disappointed you didn’t get the job but would be interested in other opportunities if any open up. Also ask them to contact you if anyone they know might be looking for someone with your skills, talent and interest.

 

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.

Indiana inmate creates job search PowerPoint presentation

job search PowerPoint presentationAn inmate at a women’s prison in Madison, Ind., created a PowerPoint presentation of our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed. And we’re happy to share her Jails to Jobs PPT with readers who might want to do something similar for the job search workshops they present.

The idea came about at the suggestion of Mary Shipman, a business technology instructor at the prison, who teaches prisoners how to use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. She discovered our book on Amazon.

“I recently presented your book to an offender as material for a practice PowerPoint project,” Shipman says. “I gave her the book on Friday and by Monday she had read it and came back to class excited to start working on her project.  She says that this book is the most relevant and up-to-date information she has been given from a single source.”

She created the presentation and shared it with her class. The PowerPoint was such a hit that she has presented it to several other programs at the facility.

She has found her passion

“She’s really found her passion. She goes and gives these presentations and empowers women. It’s an amazing thing to see. I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Shipman.

“As an instructor, I am proud of what she has accomplished, and I feel that your book has played a role in her future success after release.”

The inmate has been incarcerated for a little more than three years and will be going home in December, just before Christmas. Her crime: prescription fraud.

Although she was included in a documentary movie, she has never done any public speaking before, according to Shipman. And the woman is really making an impact.

“It’s interesting to watch because you can see the other women nodding their heads. I’ve tried to give this presentation but it’s not quite the same as someone who’s gone through it,” she says.

In addition to the presentation, Shipmen uses our book in her course. Two things that she feels are particularly useful to the students is the idea of using a JIST card, which she didn’t know about before, and going to a free or low-cost tattoo removal program to get unwanted tattoos taken off.

Improving pre-release job search education

Although Shipman feels that prisons are getting better at preparing inmates for reentry, the best thing they can do is give specific advice and information.

“The most important thing is giving them specific places to go,” she says. “Tell them, ‘When you get out, this is where you need to go and this is what they can do for you.’ This takes away the personal accountability, but it will help them.

“They’ve had people telling them what to do for the past five years (Or however long they’ve been in prison), so if we tell them what’s their first step it would help tremendously.”

 

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.

No. 1 way employers find new employees to hire

new employeesWhat’s the No. 1 way employers find new employees? It’s not what you might think.

Forget the online job boards. Forget employment agencies or headhunters. The No. 1 way employers find new employees is through a referral from a colleague.

At least that’s according to recruiting think tank CareerXroads’ Source of Hire 2015, an annual report that tracks how major companies hire employees and one that career coach and author Marty Nemko mentioned in a recent Psychology Today blog article.

Companies find about 20% of new employees through referrals

The organization found that referrals were the top source for hiring, with companies filling about 20% of their openings through employee referrals.

This is in contrast to the 13% of hires that came from social media and job boards.

In addition, the report stated that “a job seeker who is referred is conservatively three to four times more likely to be hired – some studies have found that a job seeker who is referred is 14 times more likely to be hired – than someone who applies for a position without a referral.”

Keep in mind that CareerXroads sends its survey out to 250 of the nation’s largest companies, so what applies to their hiring managers may not always be applicable to smaller companies. But it still will give you an idea of how many companies are finding their employees.

The survey also found a 3% increase in temp-to-hire, which follows a trend among companies to transition part-time and contingent workers into full-timers. This is also something to keep in mind, because temporary employment can provide a good foot in the door for those looking for a job.

So knowing the situation, what can you, as a job seeker, do?

The most important thing is to get on the radar of hiring managers, whether in big companies or small.

And one of the best ways to do this comes from workforce development expert Larry Robbin. He calls what is usually referred to as a network a circle of contacts and suggests looking at this circle of contacts like a target.

Here’s how it works

Take out a big piece of paper and put your name in the center. That’s the bull’s eye. Put the names of the people who you are closest to – these would be your family and best friends – in the first ring. Then put other friends and relatives outside your immediate family in the next ring. Keep filling in the outer rings with more and more people you know but may not know very well. When you run out of people, your circle of contacts will be complete.

What’s interesting about this whole circle of contacts idea is research has found that people tend to find jobs more through acquaintances than from close friends. The chances are pretty good that you’ll get your next job through someone you don’t know very well or see very often.

The reason is that the people you know well will have many of the same contacts that you do, but those you don’t know will have an entirely different set of contacts – and one of those may be the key to your next job.

What we’ve found is that people are usually happy to help others in their job search. We’ve all been there before and know what a tough road it is. So don’t be shy. Put together a circle of contacts and get in touch with as many of them as you can.

Who knows. Your next job might come from another customer of the stores you go to, who just happened to mention when they were in shopping that they were looking for someone who does the type of work you do. Or maybe the spiritual leader at your place of worship heard that a member was going out on maternity leave and needed someone to take her place for six months. Or a friend of a friend’s company is expanding and looking for more employees.

The only thing you have to do is get the word out. Although what happens from there involves a bit of luck, by reaching out you can be assured that luck is more likely to come your way.

 

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.

U.S. Postal Service hires job seekers with criminal records

U.S. Postal ServiceThe U.S. Postal Service is continuously hiring new employees and provides excellent opportunities for those who qualify.

Like most federal agencies, the USPS offers solid benefits and a chance to advance, as well as a variety of jobs. And the pay is pretty good as well. In 2015, the median salary for postal service workers was $56,790 per year, or $27.30 per hour.

Although the postal service’s employment application still contains the dreaded “box,” it does selectively hire those with criminal records.

According to the Application for Employment section of its official handbook, “The Postal Service recognizes that many persons with criminal records have demonstrated successful rehabilitation and are capable of performing the duties of postal jobs. These applicants are entitled to compete for jobs on individual merits.”

Yvonne Ramos, human resources specialist at the San Francisco office of the USPS, concurs.

“Fortunately, the USPS hires them (those with criminal records) with little restrictions. They cannot be hired if they are on probation or parole. When they are over their probation or parole, they are welcome to apply,” she says.

USPS offers a variety of job types

And it’s not just letter carriers and post office clerks that the postal service employs. Although these make up the majority of the agency’s workers, according to the book Post Office Jobs by Dennis V. Damp, it also hires building, equipment and vehicle maintenance workers, IT specialists and others.

Those interested in a U.S. Postal Service job can apply online by creating an account and filling out all the information required, including an employment history.

This may be a bit tricky for some who have been incarcerated, because the form won’t be accepted if it has any gaps in time. The workaround for many of those who have served time is to include the jobs they did while in prison and listing the state that they were in as their employer. For example “food service, State of California” for someone who worked in the kitchen of a California state prison.

Those applying for letter carrier jobs that require Test 473 must then fill out an online assessment. Applicants who successfully complete the online assessment are invited to complete a proctored assessment at an approved location. This usually has to be done within a one-week period of time, so it’s important to pay attention to your email messages.

For those who advance to the point of taking the test, there are plenty of ways to prepare, including watching YouTube videos.

Some USPS offices are offering one-hour free workshops providing information on how to take the test. There’s also a detailed explanation of the process on the USPS website.

For those unable to attend one of these workshops, the United States Postal Service website offers examples of sample questions that give a better idea of what the test entails.

USPS test’s four sections

The test is divided into four sections:

  • Part A Address checking comparing two lists of address to see which ones are incorrect.
  • Part B Forms completion concerns determining the information needed to fill out certain forms.
  • Part C Coding and Memory consists of assigning codes based on a coding guide and then assigning codes from memory.
  • Part D Personal Characteristics and Experience Inventory consists of personal questions that evaluate your personality characteristics, work style and experience. There are no right or wrong answers, but they must be answered honestly. This is the most extensive part of the test, with 296 items to be completed in 90 minutes.

After completing both assessments, applicants who the USPS is interested in will be called for an interview. Those who are not chosen can continue to apply for jobs. The test results are valid for six years.

In the meantime, you may want to consider reaching out to the different letter carriers in your community for their insights on the test and other possible suggestions they may have for preparation. In addition, they may know of other job openings. The post office can offer a good career and is worth considering and making it part of your job search plan.

 

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.