Blackstone Career Institute changed life of former inmate

Michael Harris, legal administrator/paralegal, Saldivar & Associates, PLLC, Phoenix.

Michael Harris

The thousands of hits we’ve received – and continue to get – on the article we wrote about Blackstone Career Institute three years ago indicates the appeal of the paralegal correspondence course it offers to those in prison.

It fact, it can change their lives, as it did for Michael Harris, who was incarcerated in Arizona and is now a legal administrator/paralegal at Saldivar & Associates, PLLC in Phoenix. And he’s just one example.

At any given time, more than 1,200 incarcerated students are participating in the Institute’s Correspondence Paralegal Program for Inmates. The old-fashioned paper-based course – no Internet is required – has been delivered to more than 1,800 institutions since the program began in the late 1970s.

Using time in prison to one’s advantage

But back to Harris. When he was sentenced to three years in prison, he was determined to make good use of the time.

“My wife and I made a strategy of how we were going to make this time work for us. I had never been able to return to school to finish a degree but wanted more education,” he says. “So I researched to find a school that would give me something worthwhile and offer a chance to do it through correspondence.”

Although Harris, like many others, had originally signed up for the monthly plan payment, an inheritance his wife received soon after his incarceration helped him pay off the cost of the course in one lump sum, which made things easier. If you pay on a monthly basis Blackstone only sends out the materials once it receives payment, but if the tuition is paid in full at the beginning, the books for the entire course are sent in the initial shipment.

Completing coursework

Of course it depends on the person and his or her background, but Harris said he only read five to 10 pages per day and developed a test strategy in which he went through the course work marking the answers to the practice questions. It took him a total of 24 months to complete the course, a bit more leisurely than he could have done it.

“I went through 16 books for the paralegal course. You could easily do one a month very comfortably,” he says.

Making money in prison

Not only did he set himself up for a career once released, Harris also used the skills he gained to make money while incarcerated. He found that several fellow inmates, including himself, needed to file for bankruptcy, and he helped them do it, work which, he says, kept him really busy.

His selling proposition: “By being in there (in prison), I could get the Federal court to waive the filing fee. I would tell guys to give me $200 and I’d get the $335 filing fee waived.”

The bankruptcy filing business even got him the support of prison employees.

“Prison officials were curious about what I was doing so they’d kind of peek in and say, “Hey what’ve you’ve goin’ there,” and I’d explain it. Most of the guards were in financial distress and would start asking me questions, and I’d refer them to online resources. Doing work for them would have created potential conflicts of interest, so I didn’t go there, but through their curiosity they were supportive,” he says.

What did the course mean for Harris while he was in prison”

It meant that it wasn’t wasted time. While everyone else was counting the days, I was using the time to my advantage,” he says. “It was also very instrumental in keeping my marriage together because in my absence my wife knew I was doing something that was going to benefit us all in the end.”

Prison experience makes better paralegal

And what did it mean once he got out?

Harris had worked for a law firm before he went into prison but at a lower than paralegal level, so the Blackstone paralegal certificate gave him credibility to get a better job.

Because he works in a firm that specializes partially in criminal law, Harris’s prison experience gives him insight that others in his firm don’t have.

“I’m able to connect with the client in a way that the attorney can’t. I’ve been there and done that,” Harris says. “When clients are in custody and I meet their families and I say I’ve been there, they say, “No you haven’t.” But when he finally convinces them that he has, they know he really understands their situation.

Advice for others

His advice for those still incarcerated:

  • Structure your time and make it work for you.
  • As felons we’ve been selling ourselves our whole lives. Most of us are quite the characters. Take that skillset and turn it into an asset instead of a hustle.
  • Get engaged in your community and network through nonprofits. Put yourself out there and make yourself available to others and it’s amazing what comes back when you do that.

If anyone else has taken the Blackstone Career Institute’s Correspondence Paralegal Program for Inmates, we’d love to hear from you. Please add your comments below or contact us directly.


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.

Use My Next Move to explore a multitude of job opportunities

My Next MoveGetting out of prison or jail and need help deciding what to do work wise?

We highly recommend checking out My Next Move as a first step in the process. This free easy-to-use tool will allow you to explore more than 900 occupations to see which of them might be right for you.

And it includes information about the knowledge, skills and abilities required for these jobs; how much they pay, potential apprenticeships and job openings, among other things. There’s just about everything you might need to know to decide whether you might want to explore any of them further.

Although it was specially designed for students, young people and those new to the workforce, it could be very useful to anyone, including those in reentry who are also exploring a new possibly uncharted life. The site is part of O*NET, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

Here’s how it works:

Go to the My Next Move website and try out the three options.

Tool No. 1. A tool to search careers with key words. These key words can be either the name of a type of worker or something you like to do. Take for example, carpenter, build houses.

Those key words bring up about 20 different types of jobs, including construction carpenters, construction laborers, drywall and ceiling tile installers, and roofers.

Click on one of those jobs, and you’ll find a vast amount of information, including what they do, the knowledge and skills required and even the type of personality that makes a person good at this type of work. It also includes education required, average salary paid and link where you can search for jobs by state and find out how to apply for them. (Some can be applied for online and others require showing up in person.)

Tool No. 2. A tool to browse careers by industry. This is just another way to find the same information about jobs as with Tool No. 1, but you will get a broader sense of what types of jobs are available in a particular industry. For example, using construction as an example brings up more than 40 types of construction jobs and another nearly 40 jobs that may work in construction.

Tool No. 3. This tool is an interest profiler, or “tell us what you like to do,” and by answering a set of 60 questions can help you pinpoint what type of work might be appropriate for you. When answering the questions, you’re not supposed to think about whether you have the education to do a particular job or how much money you might make. Just whether you would like to do the things it asks. After you complete the questionnaire you will discover your interests and what type of work might require these interests.

Once you determine what type of job you might be interested in, the site also includes links to sections on jobs that are:

  • likely to have apprenticeship programs.
  • ranked by the amount of preparation and training involved,
  • expected to grow rapidly, have large numbers of openings or are new opportunities
  • in the green economy

Spending time on the My Next Move website will help you gain insight into new possibilities that you may have not considered. My Next Move, along with some of the resources on the Jails to Jobs website, will give you a head start as you begin to search for employment. We hope they will help you in your efforts.


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.

Defy Ventures expands CEO of Your New Life program

Entrepreneurs-in-Training at California State Prison-Solano in Vacaville, Calif.

Entrepreneurs-in-Training at California State Prison-Solano in Vacaville, Calif.

Defy Ventures, a New York City-headquartered nonprofit that provides entrepreneurship, employment and character training to people in re-entry, is expanding its new initiative, CEO of Your New Life.

The program, which began last summer, takes the organization’s work into prisons and jails, working with incarcerated men and women to provide the knowledge and skills that will help ensure their re-entry will be more successful and less traumatic than it would be without them.

Launched in California State Prison-Solano in Vacaville, Calif., and the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno, Calif., in July, CEO of Your Own Life also operates in Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie, NY, and Wallkill Correctional Facility in Wallkill, NY. Defy also plans to launch the program in New Jersey’s Essex County jail system.

Here’s how it works. Forget the label inmate, prisoner or whatever. A participant is known as an Entrepreneur-in-Training (EIT), and the instruction has been created as a 10-step series designed to be administered over a 10-week period, although it could vary depending on the institution. Ideally, there will be two video-recorded courses with three hours of instruction time four days per week.

EITs also keep a Defy Journal in which they complete assignments and reflect on their thoughts and self-discoveries as they progress through the program.

The curriculum focuses on job readiness, entrepreneurship, tech basics, personal finance, etiquette, character development and re-entry planning. The faculty who have created the videos include formerly incarcerated individuals, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, Harvard and Stanford professors, and top career coaches, as well as character development experts.

In addition to the instruction, Defy hosts a couple of events per cohort within each facility where it operates CEO of Your New Life. These usually include a business night when it brings in professionals to do interviews and help with resumes, as well as a business pitch competition for those who are interested in starting their own businesses upon release.

One of these competitions took place at the California State Prison-Solano on December 17, with the top five finalists receiving prizes of between $100 and $500 that they will be able to collect upon release.

Overall, successful participants are expected to experience one or more of three likely outcomes. They will be able to:

  • gain the confidence, learn goal setting and create a vision to run their own business and secure financing to make it happen.
  • receive the assistance, coaching and training they need to create resumes, develop interview and communication skills, and effectively use email to secure meaningful employment.
  • transform themselves through personal growth in areas that include character development, parenting, self-discipline, relationships, and dealing with guilt and shame.

After release, participants can continue involvement with Defy Ventures by contacting the organization within seven days of leaving prison or jail. By doing so, they can take advantage of employment resources and further assistance in launching their new lives.

But those just coming out or prison or jail aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of what Defy has to offer. Anyone with previous criminal justice involvement may apply for a free five-month scholarship to participate in the organization’s program, which is dedicated to helping those with various levels of experience and education.

Defy’s post-release employment program offers three tiers of service, depending on the need of the individual:

  1. Tier One is for those who have education and previous work experience. It is known as guided self-help and provides job leads and referrals to other agencies and a weekly review of the participant’s progress.
  2. Tier Two offers short-term support with group or one-on-one counseling for those with barriers to employment, whether a low level of education or lack of sufficient work history. They receive job readiness and retention skills training and vocational counseling.
  3. Tier Three provides long-term support with one-on-one intervention and the services offered in Tier Two, as well as job placement resources.


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.

Ten Reasons why you should search for a job in December

Job Hunt jpg Cover for Blog (2)While it may seem counter-intuitive, looking for a job during the holidays is actually a great idea. Employers don’t stop hiring during December. In fact, statistics show that it is a time that many hiring managers spend searching for staff in order to be ready for the New Year. And many job seekers take a break during the final weeks of the year, so there may be less competition.

So polish up your resume, upgrade your list of companies to contact, and pick up the phone. As we recommend on our website and in our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, calling hiring managers and talking to them either by phone or in person, is the best way to find a job. You can also take advantage of all the parties you attend to network and collect contacts that might be able to help you in your efforts.

But back to December. We’re not the only ones who think that this is one of the best months to search for a job. Check out an excellent ebook, “New-Year-New-Job,” edited by Susan P. Joyce, president of NETability, Inc., and Meg Guiseppi, CEO of Executive Resume Writer.

It includes 101+ tips to help you conduct a productive end-of-year job search from the likes of Richard Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute, and 26 other job search experts.

Here are what we consider their top 10 tips, which have been rewritten, condensed and consolidated, with a few of our own ideas thrown in as well.

Top 10 holiday job search tips

  1. Keep in mind that many hiring managers are scrambling to fill positions by the end of the year, so they don’t lose the budget they have for those jobs.
  2. Also be aware that people tend to be more relaxed during December and may be more available and receptive to phone calls.
  3. Attend as many holiday parties as possible, whether they are professional affairs, or put on by the local chamber of commerce or a friend or relative. You never know who might show up at one of these events, so talk to as many people as possible, letting them know what type of position you are looking for and even some of the companies you are interested in possibly working for.
  4. Develop what one expert calls a “magic week” strategy, meaning the week between Christmas and New Years, when many executive assistants and other gatekeepers take vacation, and middle managers are often in charge. Take advantage of this situation by calling those people in the companies you are interested in.
  5. Let people who you exchange gifts with know that you would like something to help you in your job search, whether a particular book or two, a shirt or tie to wear to interviews, or even help with creating your resume or JIST card.
  6. Send holiday greeting cards to hiring managers you have interviewed with, contacts you’ve made through networking and just about everyone who has helped you in your job search. You may want to send New Year’s cards that will arrive after the holiday rush and receive more attention.
  7. Consider a holiday season temp job. Many employers, especially those in retail and shipping, hire extra employees during the holiday season. You can earn a bit of money and test out new opportunities.
  8. Encourage and assist other people who are also on the path to employment. It will not only help them but make you feel better as well.
  9. Volunteer during the holiday season, whether it’s serving meals at a homeless shelter, helping with a fundraising event or delivering presents to families in need. You will meet wonderful people, have new experiences, get out of the house and make a difference in the lives of others. Keep in mind that no matter how little you have, there are others who have less.
  10. Practice gratitude. Think of all the things you are grateful for, all the people who helped you on your job search this year and the progress you’ve made so far. It will boost your spirits and help you appreciate the holiday season even more.

Please contact us if you’ve tried any of these tips. We’d love to hear which ones worked for you.

We wish all of our readers a happy holiday season and success in their job search.


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.

Drive Change food truck biz trains formerly incarcerated youth


Drive Change members celebrate their selection for the People’s Choice Award and the Vendy Cup at the 2015 Vendy Awards, New York City’s highest honor for mobile vendors.

While the food business often serves up employment opportunities for those in reentry, Drive Change takes the idea one step further.

The New York City nonprofit’s Snow Day food truck sells an interesting menu of maple syrup-themed cuisine with a side of social justice, while at the same time helping formerly incarcerated young people get the training and work experience they so desperately need.

The organization was the inspiration of Jordyn Lexton, who taught at the public high school on New York City’s notorious Riker’s Island prison complex, in which 16-year-olds are considered adults.

“When I found myself on Riker’s Island I was completely blown away by how truly abusive the conditions are,” she says. “My students were leaving with felony convictions rather than juvenile adjudications. When leaving they were met by dead ends, and way too many of my students under different circumstances would have lived crime free.”

Post Riker release opportunities

While at Rikers, Lexton was thinking of business opportunities that could help young Rikers inmates after they’re released.

“There was a culinary arts class on Rikers, and it was one of the only classes where they were happy,” she says. “My own passion for eating, mixed with the realization that the food industry could provide employment and teaching, was where the idea came from.”

Food trucks seemed the best option for her business, because they can provide human connections and raise awareness of injustice inside the system better than restaurants can, she says.

So Lexton spent a year working on a taco truck and researched other food businesses on the side. By the spring of 2014, her organization was up and running and had launched Snowday, its first food truck. Snowday prepares cuisine using ingredients sourced from farms in New York City and beyond.

It caters events and posts its weekly schedule on Twitter. Drive Change also uses the truck as a tool to raise awareness about injustice within the prison system. On days when there’s a rally about reform at Rikers, for example, the organization seeks funding from donors to cover the cost of getting the truck to the event to serve food.

Funding for Drive Change

The money to buy Snowday came from a June 2013 fundraiser at an art gallery that raised about $45,000 from 300 attendees. Those who came promoted the indiegogo campaign that began the next day to their social media circles. That campaign raised another $24,000.

Lexton had built up a large network herself, thanks to her experience in the food truck industry and with criminal justice organizations. She reached out to them, as well as family and friends, to establish an individual giving platform and began to apply for foundation grants.

Snow Day began operations in April 2014, and Drive Change received its first two substantial foundation grants in the fall of 2014. These allowed it to build a kitchen training classroom originally located at the Center for Social Innovation but now in the historic former Pfizer building in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Employees must be between 16 and 25 years of age and treated as an adult in the criminal justice system. Referrals come from other organizations and reentry services. Drive Change received 66 referrals for eight open positions this past spring.

Applicants fill out an application, which Lexton says is a bit challenging and includes an essay. Of the 66 people who were originally referred only 30 completed the application.

Another requirement is that people have stable housing. “It can be a shelter or transitional housing, but knowing where someone is sleeping every night is important for employment,” Lexton says.

When people first hire on, they go through a five-week training period to receive food safety and New York Food Handlers certifications. During training, employees are paid minimum wage but upon graduation begin at $11 per hour.

During the next four to six months, Drive Change employees work in both the prep kitchen and on the truck. They also take classes in social media, marketing, hospitality, money management and small business development to prepare them for future employment or to create businesses of their own.

Although Drive Change is a nonprofit, it’s structured to own a profit LLC. The food truck is a third of its overall operating budget and is close to covering its own costs, according to Lexton.

Model for growth

The organization’s original goal was to operate a fleet of food trucks, but it has developed a different model for growth.

It plans to build a garage, a sort of food truck commissary, where other food truck operators can park their trucks, store goods, buy products and provide facilities for their employees to change clothes. Owners who park their trucks in the garage will be required to hire Drive Change employees. Lexton’s vision is to work with 120 people on 10 to 15 trucks.

And she doesn’t think that will be a problem for several reasons. The fact that New York City food trucks often have trouble finding a space for overnight parking is one of them.

“We’ve figured out by investing in this space, we can actually benefit the businesses of other food trucks in New York City. It will make their operations more efficient, lower their costs on goods and amenities and be good for their bottom line,” she says. ‘They also get the privilege of hiring these young people. It’s very hard for food trucks to find licensed and credentialed employees.”

What Drive Change is doing must be working. On Sept. 12 it won two Vendy Awards, the Oscars of mobile vending for New York City. The organization was honored with the People’s Choice Award and the grand prize Vendy Cup.

“No other vendor in the 11 years of the award has been able to achieve that,” Lexton 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.

Jails to Jobs’ book in every New South Wales, Australia prison

PrintWhen we set a goal of getting our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, in every prison library in the United States, we had no idea our reach would extend beyond that. But it has.

We recently received an order for 50 books from an Australian distributor and wanted to find out what compelled someone Down Under to buy our book.

Well, it turns out the copies were purchased by a Sydney-area book distributor for the prisons in the state of New South Wales. (For those unfamiliar with Australia, it’s the state where Sydney is located.)

We were curious to learn why the New South Wales prison system would want our book. So we got in touch with them through the distributor and heard from one of the library technicians at the New South Wales Department of Corrective Services, who asked that his name not be mentioned.

This person’s job is to handle books for all of the correctional center libraries in New South Wales.

“We found out about the book from a prison libraries e-list our library manager subscribes to. The link was to Amazon, who we can’t buy from, hence we asked the distributor to organize the purchase,” he says.

New South Wales has 32 correctional centers and about 40 libraries.

But why our book?

“To my knowledge there are no current publications (in Australia) relating to inmates seeking work once released,” he says.

We hope our book will help those Australian inmates who have access to it launch their job search after release.

For other prisons or prison systems that might be interested, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed can be purchased through Amazon. We also offer bulk rates to those who contact us directly.


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.

Travis County Jail launches pre-release tattoo removal program

The Travis County Jail has had many inmates interested in participating in its new pre-release tattoo-removal program.

The Travis County Jail’s new pre-release tattoo-removal program is popular among its inmates.

While pre-release tattoo removal programs may be one of the best ways to give inmates the confidence they will need to start a new life post release, surprisingly few exist. In fact, we have only been able to identify five such programs in the entire country.

A new program at the Travis (Texas) County Jail, however, may provide a model for other correctional insitutions to follow. The program was launched in early September as a unique partnership between the jail and the Austin-based Texas Laser & Aesthetics Training Academy, whose staff members donate their time for free.

The effort was the brainchild of Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton. “He brought us the idea, but it took quite a while to get the licensing to do it and be a traveling tattoo removal program,” says Katie Beck, the laser academy’s co-owner and clinic director.

Now that the licensing is in place, Beck and one of her head instructors travel to the jail every other week with a portable tattoo removal device. Wheeling their device into its medical facility, they spend six hours at the prison, during which they see about 25 patients.

The program is publicized in the jail’s programs area, where inmates go for GED and work readiness classes, and anyone can participate.

“They’re chosen just by request. We’re not turning anyone down,” says Kathryn Geiger, the Travis County Sheriff’s Department’s director of medical services.

The week before the procedures are performed, the Travis County Jail requires that participants undergo a physical examination by the jail’s medical provider. “They have to make sure that their body is capable of absorbing the dye,” says Geiger. “If they’re on any medicines that make them photo sensitive, they’ll stop those seven days before the procedure.”

The jail’s medical staff also requires those who receive treatment to come back the following day to meet with a wound care specialist, who ensures that the tattoo removal site is healing properly. They are also reminded to avoid the sun and keep the area moist with antibiotic cream.

Most of the tattoos are not particularly difficult to remove, according to the laser academy’s Beck. “These tattoos are usually homemade, so the depth of the ink is much easier to get at than ink that is very deeply inside of the dermis. It’s mostly prison tattoos,” she says.

Although the program is still new, follow-up treatments have already been scheduled with one former inmate who has been released. Any participant whose treatments haven’t been completed by the time they’re out can make additional appointments at the laser academy free of charge.

“They’re going to be my models for the classes. Not everyone wants students to work on them, but these guys are perfectly willing,” Beck says, confirming that the tattoo removal program has benefits for her school as well as the jail and its inmates.

Thus far, the program has been an overwhelming success. “Within the first week, we already had 97 requests,” said Geiger. “Even the officer staff has come and asked if we can start doing this for them.”

As the word spreads, more and more inmates are expected to want to participate. And many have stories that tell how important it is to them to get rid of their ink.

Here’s just one from Geiger.

“An inmate was sitting there listening to the presentation and left for the restroom,” she says. “He came out and said, ‘I wasn’t going to do this, but I went into the bathroom and saw myself in the mirror. I saw the teardrops and didn’t want to see them anymore.’”

Another inmate had a different reason that touched Beck.

“One gentleman is just 19 years old. He said he’s afraid he might be deported and doesn’t want to get killed by the cartel if he’s released,” she says.

That’s just one more reason why pre-release tattoo removal programs might be the solution for a variety of potential problems that inmates could face post-release.

For those thinking of starting a pre-release tattoo removal program of their own, Beck and Geiger have some advice:

  • The state licensing for operating a mobile tattoo unit can be the hardest part, so you have to check with your state and see what the requirements are. Every state is different, but they all have a certain amount of bureaucracy, and that’s where you have to start.
  • Look into your community to find other organizations or institutions you may want to partner with.
  • Reach out to laser and aesthetic providers who might want to volunteer to perform the tattoo removals and/or the follow-up for free.

If anyone has any questions, please contact us, and we can refer you to the people who operate the Travis County Jail’s program.


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.

New Skin launches campaign to remove tattoos in 10 cities

IMG_0453San Jose, Calif.-based New Skin Tattoo Removal has created a 10 Cities 10 Days 1,000 Second Chances campaign in which it plans to remove 100 tattoos in each of 10 California cities in 10 days free of charge.

The organization began to raise money for the effort early this month on Gofundme in a fundraising campaign that will continue until the end of the year, with a target goal of $30,000.

New Skin currently operates programs in San Jose, where it’s headquartered, and San Pablo, Calif., where it works with that San Francisco Bay Area suburb on its Removing Barriers tattoo removal program.

‘This idea (to branch out) came a few years ago when we first started out and noticed a lot of people came from places like Fresno, Salinas and Bakersfield because there are no services out there,” says Adam King, New Skin’s CEO. “There are tons of programs for youth but nothing for adults. There’s also a high percentage of people who are trying to change their lives, and we want to help them.”

Once funding for 10 Cities 10 Days 1,000 Second Chances is secured, hopefully by the end of the year, King plans to spend next March covering the state of California, from north to south, spending a day each in Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Salinas, Fresno, Bakersfield, Santa Maria, San Bernardino and Long Beach and ending in San Diego.

He will contact churches in each of those cities to serve as the locations for the program and is already reaching out to government officials, especially in parks and rec departments, in the various cities to let them know his plans. Once the funding comes through the various agencies will publicize the event to drum up clients. In San Jose, King works with organizations that include Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army and also hopes to do the same in the 10 cities they will visit.

The organization will use a donated RV, which has already been secured, and a staff of volunteer medical professionals who will do the procedures using portable tattoo removal laser devices. They will spend one day in each city, and all procedures will be done free of charge.

King also plans to take along a video team to document the trip. They will not only film the 10-city campaign but will also do follow up with some of the people who have their tattoos removed to see how it affected their lives. “We’ll go back to individuals’ homes and follow them to get a more in in-depth portrait of how people feel,” King says.

Once the locations are secured, New Skin volunteers will follow up with clients each month to continue the tattoo removal process. Monarch Lasers, its laser device rental company, can provide the equipment and a team for Southern California and New Skin will take care of Northern California, according to King.

“This will also be a test to see which city has the highest demand for this service so we can decide if it’s worth continuing,” he says.

And that’s the ultimate goal of the campaign – for New Skin to open programs like it has in San Jose and San Pablo in as many of the 10 cities it will visit as possible.

“It will, however, be a slow process and take a long time,” said King. “We’ll build up one program for six months and then move on to the next.”

It may take time, but thanks to a shortage of free and low-cost tattoo removal programs in California and throughout the nation, if all goes well New Skin will be instrumental in providing a much-needed service to those who need it most.


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.

Consider an eBay business as an alternative to a regular job

leather-691609_1280Selling things on eBay  can be a good job including for those in reentry. You don’t have to go through an interview, there are no background checks, and no endless searching job sites and sending in resumes. You just need an entrepreneurial spirit, a lot of patience and a determination to work hard.

Although many people sell anything and everything on eBay, it can help to have a specialty. That way you can become an expert in certain types of products, know where to find the good deals and become known among the eBay community. Some people specialize in clothes or shoes, others in cameras and still others in collectables. There are even people who mainly sell baseball gloves, including antique gloves that can bring in pretty prices.

Those who have made a career from selling on eBay each have their own techniques, but for the most part they visit discount stores like Ross or Loehmann’s, thrift shops and estate and garage sales, all in the pursuit of bargains they can sell for higher prices than they bought them for.

Just ask Jennie Smith, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and turned to eBay when she lost a job in the insurance industry three years ago.

She began to visit thrift shops in search of the shoes and clothes she buys, and started an eBay store. But for those who might think this is easy, she reminds them that it’s not.

“It’s a lot of work. You have to go and buy the item. You have to inspect it to see that there are no holes or it’s not faded,” she says. “You have to take measurements and pictures of everything and write a description. You have to store it somewhere nice and safe and find it when you’re ready to ship it.” You also have to research similar items on eBay to see how they’re priced in order to be competitive.

If you want to sell on eBay, you’ll have to start out small, gradually working your way up to more items. And you need a place to store the things you handle.

“I started out with just one room and a couple of shelves but have ventured into the hallway closet and the garage. Now I have 1,100 items in my store,” Smith says. “I just picked up 52 pairs of shoes at the Goodwill outlet. Ralph Lauren boots, Aerosoles. Some of the shoes still have tags on them, and I could sell some of them for as much as $80.” She never buys anything that she can’t sell for at least four times what she paid for it.

Although Smith still works part time in insurance, she spends about 40 hours each week on her eBay business, including the time she’s shopping for goods. She also packs between eight and 20 items each day to ship out to her customers, another part of the business that consumes time.

Selling on eBay is not just about picking something up and selling it. You have to ask yourself, would you buy this? Is it good enough to sell, she says.

Although it takes a certain mindset, those who are successful can make a pretty good living. Smith pulls in between $4,000 and $5,000 per month before eBay’s fees, which average 17 percent.

To learn the business, she recommends a website called The site’s podcasts are full of tips and information to help you make a living through eBay, and she still watches them on a regular basis.

Another good resource for learning about selling on eBay is YouTube videos. For example, search on YouTube for eBay selling tips and start with the videos that have the most views. Also, check to see what books about creating an eBay business are available at your public library. Many have books on the subject from the Dummies and the Complete Idiot’s series.

A good way to begin an eBay business is to check out things that you, your family and friends own but may no longer need or want. That can be your initial inventory while you develop your business.

In order to sell on eBay you must set up a PayPal account. To obtain a PayPal account, you need to have a checking account, so if you don’t have one already, you’ll have to first open one.  Then you can start taking payments from people who will want to buy the things you sell.

We would greatly appreciate it if any formerly incarcerated people who are successfully selling on eBay would be willing to share some tips and advice with our readers. Please add your comments below.


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.

What makes a good prison library

0-1At Jails to Jobs we realize the importance of inmates getting access to job search information so they’ll be ready to hit the pavement upon release.

And one way to get that information is by spending time in the library of the facility where they are incarcerated.

In order to help serve those inmates, we’ve begun a campaign to get our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, into every prison library in the U.S.

But what makes a good prison library and how do they help incarcerated people prepare for success on the outside?

We thought we’d ask Brandy Buenafe, principal librarian of the Office of Correctional Education, Division of Rehabilitative Programs of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Here’s what she had to say:

Do you have any idea of what percentage of prisons in the U.S. have libraries?

I am not familiar with the entire United States. I know here in California all of the state prisons have libraries, some more than one. There are 35 institutions in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and 125 libraries.

What is the goal of a prison library?

Our goal is to provide an accurate source of unbiased information, including updated reference and legal resources. We also provide fiction and non-fiction reading books.

What makes a good prison library?

I think when the library is perceived by custody, staff and inmates as fulfilling the above goals, it is a good library. I am also encouraged by our libraries that offer additional literacy support, such as book clubs, essay contests and reading reward programs.

How do librarians evaluate the books that go into their libraries?

Books are evaluated by several pieces of criteria, including a list of disapproved titles, the reading needs and desires of the population, and several mandates including percentages of fiction and non-fiction.

How much emphasis is given on job search info in prison libraries?

CDCR libraries include many pieces of self-help information, including resume writing and successful re-entry. We are also part of the Division of Rehabilitative Programs, which has a Community Re-entry Office.

What do prison librarians do to encourage the use of the library among the inmates?

(They sponsor) contests, and do marketing (both word of mouth and on inmate television). The contests are generally around designing a bookmark or writing an essay or poem. Rewards range from certificates of completion to special food items, such as soda pop.

How do you think prison libraries can be improved?

That’s a really good question. We are focusing on recruiting more staff, as there is historically a high vacancy rate. We are highlighting the safe working environment, excellent pay and benefits, and opportunity to impact the lives of individuals and society. We are also often behind the 8 ball when it comes to technology, but in California that is just a matter of time. Now that we will be offering in-person college courses in our institutions, our libraries will need to improve their database offerings, and I’m confident we can do so.

If any readers know of a prison librarian who would like to receive a complimentary copy of our book for their library, please tell them to contact us.


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.