Code Tenderloin founder Del Seymour helps ex-offenders learn job skills and discover how to reclaim their dignity

Code Tenderloin

Del Seymour founded Code Tenderloin to help people gain some of the opportunities that tech companies were bringing to the area.

Reclaiming your dignity after being incarcerated can be a difficult task. But it doesn’t have to be.

Often people are hampered by a self-defeating attitude. But you can turn that attitude around and break the mental chains that are holding you back.

Just ask Del Seymour. A former drug dealer who lived in a dumpster in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood for 18 years, Seymour turned his life around and now helps those who are in reentry, who live on the streets and who face other challenges. He focuses on the Tenderloin, an area adjacent to the city’s mid-Market, where tech companies like Twitter, Square and Uber have set up shop.

Questioning why the people in the Tenderloin weren’t getting a share of the opportunities that tech companies have brought to the city, Seymour founded Code Tenderloin five years ago. During the time it has been in existence, the organization has trained more than 2,000 people, at least 35% of whom were formerly incarcerated.

Code Tenderloin conducts both job training and programming classes

It offers Job Readiness and Code Ramp programs. Job Readiness is the first step, a program in which participants – and anyone can be a participant they just have to walk in the door – learn the basics. These include how to set goals and create a resume, as well as how to make a good impression and succeed in the workplace.

Code Ramp teaches beginning JavaScript programming, with advanced classes for those who wish to go further. The classes take place at Uber headquarters, LinkedIn headquarters and PianoFight, an independent arts venue. They are taught by volunteer instructors who are employed in the tech industry. Other volunteers serve as teaching assistants, who work with the instructors. Still others act as tutors who help students one-on-one. Some of these students are studying on their own and need help.

“We have volunteers from major tech companies to small start-ups and many boot camp graduates from the Bay Area,” says Donna Hilliard, the organization’s executive director.

“Some people volunteer because they come from an untraditional background and want to support others to help them break into tech. Other people have heard about the work we do from other volunteers and want to make an impact.”

Although Code Tenderloin is about helping people get jobs, at its heart it is much more than that. Seymour says the most important subject to deal with is dignity – or lack thereof.

Code Tenderloin helps people regain their dignity

“The main thing we do at Code Tenderloin is we give you your dignity what you already got,” he says. “I tell people I can’t really give you your dignity. You already have it. It’s just a matter of claiming it and not guilt tripping yourself every day you get up. It’s done it’s over. It’s not a life sentence. Don’t make it a life sentence.”

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of help out there for those who take the initiative to reclaim their dignity. And there’s one way to help ensure that you won’t lose hope when making your way back into society.

“Reach out for support. Stay around people who are positive,” Seymour says.

It’s essential, however, that you look for help as soon as you can after getting out of jail or prison, according to Seymour.

“Time is of the essence. The longer you don’t get hooked up and connected with organizations that can help you, the more chance that you will not be successful,” he says. Quit guilt tripping about what happened years ago.

“There’re reasons why there’s a referee in a boxing ring. When a boxer gets beaten down, the referee has to stand there and help them get back up,” he says. “You can’t get up when people are beating on you. And sometimes the person beating on you is yourself.”

The 2020 Census is hiring thousands of workers nationwide

2020 Census is hiringHaven’t found a full-time job yet? Interested in doing something worthwhile that will help your community while you’re still looking?

The U.S. 2020 Census is hiring  thousands of people across the nation and in Puerto Rico for a variety of jobs. These temporary positions include census takers, office staff, recruiting assistants and supervisors.

To qualify, you must be:

  • A U.S. citizen
  • 18 years or older
  • Able to work flexible hours – days, evenings and weekends

And you must have:

  • A valid social security number
  • Working email address
  • A valid driver’s license and access to a vehicle (unless public transportation is available)

While there’s no box to check on the application, there is a Census-performed background check and a review of criminal records. And you must be fingerprinted before the first day of the job. Supervisors have no information about a worker’s background. They only know whether or not they passed the background check.

How applicants with criminal records are judged

Applicants with criminal records are judged based on the nature of the offense, the length of time passed, evidence of rehabilitation and other factors considered by the FBI.

The hourly wage depends on location, and you can find the pay for your area by checking out the job locations page on the Census Bureau website. It’s possible to search locations by state and city to see where people are being hired and the range of pay. For example, in Birmingham, Ala., census takers get paid from $14.50 to $18.00 per hour. In St. Louis, Mo., it’s $19.50. And in San Francisco, the pay is $30. Mileage is also paid for car use.

The jobs that the 2020 census is hiring for will last for several weeks, and hiring is currently underway. The first step is to apply online. Applicants, once hired, go through paid training before beginning the actual work. It may be several weeks between when applicants receive a job offer and they begin training.

Looking for work? Here’s where the jobs will be


Constructions jobs are increasing, and skilled labor is in high demand.

Job prospects are looking good these days, and a tight market means more and better opportunities for those seeking employment. In fact, 47 percent of companies plan on hiring contract or temporary employees, and 40 percent plan to hire full-time permanent employees this year.

These figures come from an annual survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder among 1,021 hiring and human resource managers and 1,010 employees between Dec. 20, 2018 and Jan. 16, 2019.

Jobs most in demand

The most in-demand types of jobs and the increased percentages in hiring, according to the survey:

  • Skilled labor: 25 percent
  • Data analysis: 21 percent
  • Digital marketing: 12 percent
  • Cyber security: 11 percent
  • AI/Machine learning: 10 percent
  • Healthcare: 10 percent

While CareerBuilder looked at types of jobs, the ManpowerGroup looked at 13 industry segments in its Q2 2019 ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey of more than 11,500 U.S. employers.

Industry segments increase hiring

The strongest industry segments and their increased percentages in hiring:

  • Transportation and utilities: 25 percent
  • Leisure and hospitality: 25 percent
  • Wholesale and retail trade: 24 percent
  • Professional and business services: 23 percent
  • Mining: 19 percent
  • Construction: 19 percent
  • Durable goods manufacturing: 19 percent

“As U.S. employers continue to report double-digit hiring outlooks, demand for talent is growing across the board from cyber security experts and data analysts to delivery drivers needed to keep up with 24/7 online retail,” said Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America.

Companies willing to train

Don’t have the exact skills employers are looking for? Don’t worry. If you have potential, many employers may be willing to train you in some of the skills you might need.

“While a skills gap has created an environment where employers are having trouble finding qualified talent, employees’ and companies’ mutual dedication towards competency-based training indicates we have made leaps and bounds toward eliminating these obstacles. We’ve found that 59 percent of employers plan to train and hire workers who may not be 100 percent qualified but have potential,” says Irina Novoselsky, CEO of CareerBuilder.

And they’ve already been doing this. Sixty-three percent of employers in the CareerBuilder poll reported hiring someone without the required skills with plans to train them. And more than half have paid for an employee to get training or education to bring them up to speed.

Beyond technical and practical skills, soft skills are becoming increasingly important in the workplace. Ninety-two percent of employers say soft skills help determine whether they will hire candidates. And eighty percent also said that soft skills would be at least as important as hard skills. The top skills that employers mentioned to CareerBuilder are the ability to be team-oriented (51 percent), attention to detail (49 percent) and customer service (46 percent).

Flipping cars can provide a little extra cash or become a viable business

flipping cars

Although Lehmann specialized in Volkswagens, any car that sells well in the area where one lives will do.

Buying and selling cars can be a way to score some extra cash every once in a while. It can also become a lucrative business if you qualify for licensing.

Most states have laws preventing residents from selling more than a certain number of cars per year. And that number usually tends to be rather low – under five vehicles. To sell more than that may require an automobile dealer’s license. And many states deny these licenses to people with felony convictions for some, but usually not all, crimes.

Although it may provide challenges, selling vehicles is still worth looking into, especially for those who love cars and trucks. If you just want to sell a handful, it’s not a problem. But for anything beyond that, you’ll have to check out the licensing requirements with your state’s DMV.

Higher priced cars usually mean higher profits

Many “how to sell cars” websites recommend buying and selling low-end cars, say those worth $1,000 to $4,000. You’ll take less financial risk selling at this price range, but you also may end up buying vehicles that need a fair amount of work before you can sell them, since they tend to be older models. You’ll also make less money than selling higher priced cars, which can offer greater markups and may be easier to fix up, especially if they are recent models with relatively low mileage.

One person who did this is Californian Charlie Lehmann. No, he doesn’t have a criminal record – or at least we don’t think he does – but his story still can be an inspiration to anyone considering doing something similar.

Lehmann began buying and selling a few Volkswagen diesel cars, and together with his son, built a successful business that netted $1.3 million in a year and a half.

That year and a half was 2004 to 2005, and Lehman was selling only Volkswagen diesel cars. He would fly all over the country – from Alaska to Florida – to purchase them and then drive them back to California.

“I would fly there, write a check, go to the bank, get the pink slip and drive back. In some cases, not a lot of cases, we’d actually wire transfer the money into the person’s account. In those days there was a big demand (in California) for the cars we were selling,” he says.

Craigslist, Auto Trader and are good places to buy vehicles

He found the cars on Craigslist, Auto Trader and and was soon selling so many – about 20 per month – that he had to recruit some of the retired members of a social club he’s active in to help him drive them back.

He also bought cars from car dealers who took vehicles that were not popular in their market in on trades. Auto auctions can be a good source as well.

Because he specialized in Volkswagen diesel cars, Lehmann got to know them very well. “It was very important for us (to specialize). It kept us focused. We knew the cars, and we were not buyers and sellers of automobiles (in general). We were limited in our knowledge space.”

Although specializing is important to get a knowledge edge, the most important thing, as far as the cars were concerned, was that they looked like new.

“I’d drive the car back. My wife would have it serviced. If the window had a pit, we’d take it in and have a new windshield put in. The car needed to look like new. If it had a ding in the door, we’d get the ding guy. They’d come out for less than a hundred bucks and get rid of the dings,” he says.

“As long as the margin was there, we’d buy them. Basically we wanted the newer cars within 1-1/2 to 3 years old, because after three years the price is substantially reduced.” They netted $4,000 on average for each of the approximately 300-plus cars they sold.

Although Lehman specialized in Volkswagen diesel cars, this business model can work with virtually any price range and type of car as long as you know what the value is and if there is a market for the car where you plan to sell it.

Because of the quality of the Volkswagens they bought, Lehmann and his crew never had a breakdown driving them back to California. There were three accidents involving animals – rabbits and a porcupine – however.

Tips for those new to buying and selling cars

Advice from Lehmann and others for people starting out:

  • Specialize in a certain make of car. You’ll learn to know it well.
  • You don’t need much money, except to buy your first car.
  • Have a passion for whatever car you choose to specialize in. Without a passion, you can’t sell them, and ultimately selling is everything.
  • Buy cars with the lowest mileage you can get.
  • Make sure they look good, but it doesn’t cost that much money to fix them up cosmetically. You can do most of the cleanup work yourself, although you may want to take it to a detailer and will definitely want to replace a cracked windshield or have a professional take out the dings.
  • Plan to get a dealer’s license – or work with someone who can get one – if you’re going to sell more than the number of cars legally allowed in your state.

So, if you think this might possibly be the business for you, do your research and follow the tips in this and other articles, as well as YouTube videos you find online. Here are a few examples:


wikiHow to Buy and Sell Cars for Profit

Earn $500+ This Weekend: An Intro to Flipping Cars

Business idea for nonprofit reentry organization

This concept could also make a great business for an organization that works with people in reentry, according to Lehman. An organization could employ well suited clients to learn to buy and sell cars as a business under the guidance of an experienced manager. A car dealership might even be interested in becoming a partner in supporting such an idea by helping to share the costs and providing other resources. With a big smile and lots of enthusiasm Lehmann said, “These numbers are real and scalable, and the business is a nice opportunity for learning and profits.”


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,” 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.


Call center work offers growing number of opportunities

woman_with_phone_headset_197963Call center work is something that can be a good choice for those in re-entry, since many companies tend to be open to hiring formerly incarcerated individuals for this type of job and many people have already had experience in call centers in a prison or jail setting.

The field also provides a growing number of opportunities, as more and more companies relocate their call centers to the U.S. After years of complaints from unhappy customers who were unable to understand the English of the service reps in call centers located in India and elsewhere, many corporations have decided to invest their resources in creating opportunities here at home.

And many of these companies are offering work-at-home opportunities to some or all of their call center reps. The Work at Home Resource Guide offers an extensive directory of companies that hire employees for call center jobs. It includes the type of rates each one pays, which states they operate in, what type of training they provide, and if there’s a charge for anything.

Another even more extensive list that includes only work-at-home call center jobs but with fewer details, can be found on the Work at Home Moms section of

Call center jobs vary

Whether on-site or work at home, call center jobs vary in terms of the type of work required. They can be reservation agents for airlines and hotels, order takers, customer service reps, survey conductors, those doing tech support or sales associates selling products or services.

Among necessary skills that call center employees must have are to be detail-oriented, proficient in basic math and writing, sound professional on the telephone, and be able to type and have a basic knowledge of word processing.

Beware of scams

Work-at-home call center employment is ripe for scandal, so be wary. The companies included in the directory mentioned above are legitimate, but do your homework. Any company that requires a registration fee or asks for money for training may be a scam. Some ask applicants to pay for background checks, but only after they have a job offer.

Things to consider

If you’re considering this type of work, there are a few things to consider:

  • Pay varies widely and can be by the hour, minute or call made and in some cases may include a commission or incentive.
  • Bilingual call center agents tend to be paid more. Spanish speakers are especially in high demand, but those who speak languages like French and Chinese are also sought after.
  • There should be no charge for registration or training, but you may not get paid – or paid less than when you begin working – during that period.
  • If you work at home, you’ll need, at the very least, a computer, phone and internet connection.
  • You may be a full-time employee with some or full benefits, or a contractor who works for an outside agency or is self-employed.
  • Some call centers will only hire work-at-home representatives in certain states – or within a certain number of miles from their hiring location.

Like all jobs, call center work requires professionalism, a positive attitude and an ability to get along with people, especially on the phone. It’s just one possibility, but one that those with a record might want to seriously consider. A good telephone presence and telephone selling skills are very desirable to many employers and can lead to other job opportunities in the future.


Oakland employer reaches out to hire ex-offenders


Ashleigh McCullough of Telecom, Inc.

Ashleigh McCullough, senior project manager of Telecom, Inc., is not your typical hiring manager. Far from it. And too bad more people aren’t like her – willing to give ex-offenders a second chance.

Addicted to meth for five years, previously homeless and in and out of prison, she turned her life around and now helps others who have backgrounds that would make them unemployable in the minds of many. But not Ashleigh McCullough.

In fact her company is dedicated to that effort. “We’re a second-chance employer,” McCullouigh says. “No matter where you come from, there’s always someplace you can go.”

Telecom, an outsourced contact center solution provider, employs about 100 people at its facility in downtown Oakland, Calif. The company offers technical and sales support and does order taking, as well as telesales, lead generation and market research.

Five years ago, after a six-month rehab program, McCullough went to Goodwill Industries for help with her job search. The first job they sent her to was a minimum-wage level telemarketing representative at Telecom. Five years later she’s a senior project manager who overseas the outbound sales department, managing about 50 people including four other managers.

As part of her duties at a second-chance employer, McCullough attends job fairs and participants in events like the reentry expo at Santa Rita Jail.

She also works with a halfway house. “When people come out of federal or state prison, I hire them and give them an opportunity,” McCullough says. “The project manager under me who I oversee came from that halfway house.”

There’s no box to check on Telecom employment applications. The company doesn’t’ even do background checks. “There have been one or two cases over the past couple of years when I interviewed people within the prison who had some type of conviction for identity theft,” she says. “For something of that nature, I had them bonded but still would hire them.”

And what sorts of employees do those who were formerly incarcerated make? “They make great employees. I can’t say that every apple in the bunch is great,” she says “They’ve been through struggles, but they give it their all. I have people with drug histories who have been here for three years to 15 years, and they become successful. There are members of the management team who have had their struggles and they’re still here.”

McCullough offers a few tips to help those with a record present themselves better:

  • Concentrate on your appearance.
  • Pay attention to the way you carry yourself.
  • Be reliable and dependable.
  • Go out with an open mind, because there are people who will hire you and give you an opportunity to grow.

How about employers who might be considering hiring those with a record?

  • Give everyone an opportunity, because everyone has something to bring to your company regardless of their background.
  • Keep in mind that everybody deserves a second chance, but no one can prove themselves if they’re not given a chance to do so.

McCullough has now been on both sides and knows first hand what it means to be given a second chance and how giving someone else a that chance can benefit not only a company but society as a whole.

Her example is proof of that. In addition to her career success, she’s a grandmother now and just purchased a new car. “I’ve continued to climb,” she says. “Working at Telecom has given me a second chance at a first-class life.”


Heavy equipment operator jobs provide option for ex-offenders

MP900390184If you’re starting over in life and looking for a viable job opportunity, you might want to consider learning how to operate construction equipment.

Highway, road, bridge and building construction has dramatically increased in the past few years and is expected to continue to do so, although at a somewhat slower pace. Still, it is estimated that construction equipment operation jobs will increase 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, faster than the average job growth overall, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor.

According to, salaries in this field range from the high $40,000s to about $70,000 nationally. You can go on the site and put in your ZIP code to see what the salary would be for your local area.

To get an idea of what’s involved in these types of jobs, you might want to visit Caterpillar University, operated by the company that makes the machinery used on many construction sites. It offers scores of courses, some free and some not, on a variety of subjects including operating backhoe loaders, hydraulic excavators and track-type tractors, among others. The videos on the sight might give you a better idea of what’s involved in operating heavy equipment and help you decide if that’s the type of work you’d like to do.

Once you decide it is a job you would enjoy, there are a variety of ways to prepare for and get work in this field. One is to get hired and be trained on the job, although this is rather unusual.

Another is through the International Union of Operating Engineers, which operates 95 apprenticeship and training programs through its local unions across the U.S. and Canada. The union’s paid apprenticeship program lasts three to four years and offers classroom instruction, as well as hands-on experience operating such heavy equipment as cranes, excavators and directional boring and motor graders.

There are also private schools scattered around the country that teach heavy equipment operations and grant certificates, but they can be quite expensive. The Georgia College of Construction in Conyers, Ga., for example, offers three levels of courses, each three weeks long, that teach the operation of bulldozers, backhoes, front loaders, excavators and large hydraulic cranes.

It has its own certification program, as well as certification through the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators. Each three-week program costs $8995, and according to Daryl Wodrum, the school’s president, there is job placement through the National Association of Heavy Equipment Training Services, the organization that owns the school and two others.

A more economical option is to enroll in one of the community colleges that have programs in heavy equipment operation, some of which are in conjunction with union apprenticeships. Here are a few examples:

Flathead Valley Community College, Libby, Montana – A year-long program that provides hands-on experience in the operation and maintenance of a wide variety of types of heavy equipment.

San Diego City College, San Diego, Calif. – This is one of the college’s many programs that are offered only to students who are enrolled in an apprenticeship program. It teaches machinery operation, safety procedures and knowledge of soils for those operating dump trucks and tractors.

Community College of Allegheny County, various campuses in  Allegheny County, Penn. – This is another apprenticeship-related program.

Stanly Community College, Albemarle, N.C. – This college’s two-semester program, featuring hands-on experience, as well as simulation training, leads to  an opportunity to receive National Center for Construction Education and Research certification in several areas.

Southern Louisiana Community College, various campuses – This program teaches students to operate a variety of equipment and includes a required course in job seeking skills.

Southern Maine Community College, South Portland, Me. – This certificate program prepares graduates to work in a variety of settings, including county, state and interstate highway construction; airport development; agricultural construction; and commercial and residential construction.


Milk Not Jails promotes dairies, opens minds, helps ex-offenders

Milk Not Jails plans to expand its line to add more items like ice cream and yogurt.

In a unique New York endeavor, probably the only one of its type in the country, an organization known as Milk Not Jails is working to develop the dairy industry as an alternative to the prison economy as a means of rural economic development. It’s also spreading the word about problems in the criminal justice system and alerting people about job opportunities for ex-offenders.

A reliance on the prison industry by towns in upstate New York dates to the 1980s and 1990s. At that time, a prison-building boom spread throughout rural New York state, convincing some communities that hosting correctional facilities would improve local economies. But with prison populations decreasing – thanks to a variety of initiatives including diversion to treatment and other programs and a scaling back of drug sentencing – that idea may not be working as well as originally intended.

The dairy industry, on the other hand, has a more sustainable economic future. There are nearly 6,000 dairy farms in New York State, mostly family owned with an average herd size, according to Cornell University Cooperative Extension, of 113 cows.

Milk Not Jails began two years ago, after founder Lauren Melodia, a former community organizer, spent a year in a prison town in upstate New York. She knew nothing about milk but was convinced that it could be an economic alternative to incarcerating prisoners, 75 percent of whom come from seven neighborhoods in New York City. Instead of shipping prisoners out of the city, her dream was to ship milk into the boroughs and create a new economic model while, at the same time, raising people’s awareness of the state’s prison system and helping ex-offenders find employment.

It is, at this point, a nearly all-volunteer organization – except for one paid employee, the truck driver, an ex-offender – with a core group of about 20 people. Members get together for monthly meetings, and six working groups concentrate on different areas that range from policy and chapter development to fundraising and marketing.

The foundation of Milk Not Jails, however, is to market milk products, raise consciousness about incarceration issues and ultimately help ex-offenders find jobs.

“We began with CSAs,” Melodia says. (Community Supported Agriculture is a market model whereby people receive delivery of produce and occasionally meat and now milk from a specific farm or group of farms.) “It’s a great place to start, because the CSA members care about where their food comes from. We’re working really hard to get into the food coops as well as small independent grocery stores and the university system.”

Milk Not Jails now buys from two farms and is looking for more producers. Volunteers made a list of 250 farms that they will reach out to in order to expand the network. The organization currently distributes to 15 CSAs in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, along with office buying clubs in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Melodia is also hoping to widen the organization’s product line to include items like ice cream and yogurt, so it can sell to day care and other facilities.

Beyond selling milk, Melodia says, the organization is a way to help ex-offenders. Wherever the truck appears and wherever the volunteers go, they talk about the issues and opportunities for ex-offenders. “We’re bringing new people into the conversation about criminal justice reform,” she says. “And we’re helping to spread the word about job placement and training programs in New York City for formerly incarcerated individuals.”

For more information visit


S.F. Bay Area labor shortage offers ex-offenders opportunities

An abundance of San Francisco Bay Area infrastructure and construction projects mean opportunities for workers with appropriate skills and training.

With an estimated $20 billion worth of construction-related projects underway and planned for the next few years, the San Francisco Bay Area is already facing a labor shortage that offers opportunities for ex-offenders who have skills or who are willing to enter apprenticeships.

These projects include more than $4.7 billion in hospital construction projects to be completed by 2016 and 19 highway and transit-related projects estimated to total $5 billion and paid for by money from a bond passed in 2006. These ventures and others like them require thousands of workers. There aren’t enough people in the Bay Area with the appropriate skills to fill the available jobs, and the shortage of workers is expected to continue.

“The way we know that there’s a shortage is that the out-of-work lists (lists of names of union members who are looking for work) have diminished to the extent that they’re non-existent,” says Michael Theriault, secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Building & Construction Trades Council.

Ironworkers are about to face a shortage, according to Theriault. There’s a need for those trades that are involved in the early stages of projects such as structural work and site work, including workers who are laborers, pile drivers, structural engineers, plumbers and electricians.

The shortages of workers in the finished trades, such as painters, glaziers, carpet layers and even carpenters, will not develop as quickly. Workers, especially those at journey-level, however, are in such demand that it might be necessary to bring them in from outside the region.

Although there may be opportunities in the Bay Area that may not necessarily be the case in other areas. “The shortage of workers is not going to be the same across the country. The economy is recovering faster in the Bay Area because of the tech industry,” says Theriault.

Not only are there opportunities in the trades, but they are a particularly friendly place for ex-offenders to find work. “There’s no barrier whatsoever of having a record and participating in the trades. We’re one of the fields that’s most open to hiring ex-offenders,” says Theriault. “I’ve worked side-by-side with many and known them to be great hands.”

“We hope that ex offenders consider us a possible home. It’s a serious living and challenging and rewarding at the same time. We look forward to their participation in our trades.”

For more information about the San Francisco Building & Construction Trades Council and for information about apprentice program requirements, visit