Learn how to find and apply for federal jobs

federal jobsThe federal government has thousands of job openings every year. From positions as national park rangers, lawyers and medical professionals to carpenters, electricians, cooks and clerical workers, federal agencies provide an exceptional range of opportunities. They also offer competitive pay and excellent benefits. And most people with criminal records are welcomed and eligible to apply — with some exceptions.

The only issue could be how do you manage to navigate the bureaucracy and get one of these positions? Applying for government jobs can be more involved than applying for those in the private sector. Although they may have the appropriate qualifications, many applicants are disqualified because they make minor errors, such as not including a date or sufficient work experience details. Or they forget to upload a required form.

Government officials realize that applying for federal jobs is a challenge for many people. And, in order to broaden the pool of diverse candidates, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has created a series of webinars. They are presented by the staff of the OPM’s Recruitment Policy and Outreach division. Although the webinars are free, each is limited to 1,500 participants. And registration is required.

The webinars, and the dates they will take place are:

Writing Your Federal Resume

In this webinar, participants will learn how to write a competitive federal resume. It will be offered on:

  • July 23, 2020 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
  • August 10, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time
  • August 27, 2020 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
  • Sept 15, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time
Navigating USAJOBS – Finding and Applying for Federal Jobs

USAJOBS is the federal government’s employment website. This webinar will help job seekers navigate the site. They will learn how to create a profile, search for desired positions, apply for jobs and check their application status. It will be offered on:

  • August 5, 2020 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
  • August 26, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
  • Sept 9, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time

Learning how the federal government conducts interviews will give applicants a better understanding of what will take place when they happen. This webinar covers the types of interviews that federal agencies conduct, how they conduct them and how to prepare. It also includes information on the questions that interviewers are likely to ask and how to respond using the S.T.A.R. (Situation/Task, Action, Result) method. The dates for this webinar are:

  • July 27, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
  • August 6, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
  • August 25, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time
  • Sept 17, 2020 at 3:00 pm Eastern Standard Time
  • Sept 30, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time

Once you are ready to find and apply for a federal government job (or jobs), in addition to exploring USAJOBS, you may want to consider The U.S. Postal Service. They are constantly hiring new employees and provide excellent opportunities for those who qualify. One of our most popular articles offers information on just how to go about applying for a postal service job. Good luck!


The importance of letters of recommendation in a job search and how to request them

letters of recommendationLetters of recommendation can be essential items to gather in preparation for a job search, but they’re especially important if you’re coming out of prison and looking for work. Along with a well-prepared resume or JIST card and your turnaround packet, one or more letters of recommendation may be what convinces a hiring manager to offer you a job. And you might want to request these before leaving prison.

That’s exactly what Dana Wilson of Fresno, Calif., did.

During her 9-1/2 years in prison, Wilson took advantage of every opportunity that came her way. “I felt that something must be wrong with me on the inside that I made choices that made me end up where I did,” she says. “I checked out what kind of groups they had (in prison) and jumped right in. I took advantage of every single self-help group I could get my hands on. I got certificates left and right. It was a never ending growing experience for me.”

And part of that growing experience was training for several types of work inside prison and deciding to concentrate on one of them. For 4-1/2 years, Wilson worked at the CALPIA Dental Lab, where she learned how to create dental protheses. And while doing so, she was thinking ahead to how she would find work once released.

Dana Wilson

Dana Wilson

Get letters of recommendation from multiple supervisors

As part of her planning process, she requested letters of recommendation from a series of supervisors.

“When I knew my first boss was going to retire, I asked him for a letter of reference. The boss underneath him got that position. So I waited a couple of months and asked him for a letter of reference. Then they hired a new guy and I asked him too,” she says.

And those three letters came in handy when she got out of prison, returned to Fresno and applied for a position at a dental lab. She gave all of them to the hiring manager.

“When I applied for this job I laid everything out on the table,” Wilson says. “When they asked what’s PIA (officially known as CALPIA), I told them it’s the (California) Prison Industry Authority. They looked kind of weird. So I said I’ve been in prison, but let me tell you what I’ve done.” That’s when she told them about all the classes she had taken, the groups she had participated in and the certificates she had earned, all of which are kept in a neatly organized binder, what we call a turnaround packet.

The lab where Wilson worked as a dental technician – her first job out of prison – closed, and she’s had two other jobs since then. And she gets a letter of recommendation from every place she works.

“I think it’s really, really important for people who have been incarcerated to do that. If they run a background check and things pop up it will bring questions to the employer’s mind,” she says. “I can say this is who I was but this is not who I am today. My past doesn’t define who I am now.”

Tips on how to solicit letters of recommendation

Getting a supervisor from a prison job to write you a letter of recommendation may be the best way to begin. That way you’ll have something to start out with. But if you didn’t bother to do that or don’t have a good working relation with your prison job supervisor, don’t worry. Here are some other approaches you can take.

When soliciting letters of recommendation:

  • Make a list of potential people to ask. These could be former supervisors both inside and outside prison, teachers of courses you’ve taken or supervisors at places you’ve volunteered.
  • Contact your possibilities first by phone – or in person if you can – to see if they’re willing to write a letter of recommendation for you. And, if they are, follow up with an email. Be sure to send them your resume or JIST card and describe the type of work you’re looking for. You may feel shy and afraid to ask for recommendations, fearful that they might say, “No.” It’s important to overcome your fear and just do it.
  • If it’s a former supervisor, you may want to remind them of the skills you bring to your work and some of the specific things you accomplished while on the job. You need to make it easy for someone to write the letter and also make sure they highlight your most important strengths and accomplishments.
  • Include the date by which you would like to have the letter completed. (It’s best to ask for a date at least a week or more before you actually need it.)
  • Be aware that these letters can be written so they can be given to hiring managers at a variety of places you will apply to, like Wilson did. Or they can be addressed to an individual hiring manager for a specific job you’re applying for.
  • Make sure to send a thank you note – either hand written or by email – to every person who writes a recommendation letter for you.
  • It’s possible, but unlikely, that someone will ask you to write the letter of recommendation yourself and they’ll sign it. If that’s the case, you can find lots of examples online. It’s best to use these examples for ideas of what to include and not copy them word for word, however.

How to create a turnaround talk to convince employers to hire you

turnaround talkOnce you have your turnaround packet together for your job interview, it’s time to create a turnaround talk to go along with it.

The purpose of this “talk” is to tell the truth about your conviction and to emphasize that you’re not the same person you used to be and that you have turned your life around. And the evidence is displayed in your turn around packet for employers to clearly see. Your goal is to engage their interest and empathy, to shine a light on how you’d make a good employee and hopefully be offered a job. As in the case of the turnaround packet, the idea for the turnaround talk originally came from Larry Robbin, a nationally-known expert in the field of workforce development.

Things you might want to say

Here are things to consider, as you think of what you’re going to say:

  • Plan for the fact that once the interview has progressed sufficiently and you’ve also established rapport with the hiring manager, say something like, “Before we move on, I just wanted to let you know about my life situation and give you a little bit of information about myself.”  Then lead into your turnaround talk.
  • Explain your situation. Maybe your parents stopped supporting you as a teenager and you ended up homeless. Or you did something without thinking, but learned your lesson and won’t do it again. Or you hung around with the wrong crowd but don’t do so anymore.
  • Give a brief explanation of the facts. Think of what you did and rephrase it in more gentle terms. Instead of talking about burglary, say you took some things you shouldn’t have taken. If you were a drug addict, say you had a substance abuse problem and, if true, you went through a recovery program and are committed to the maintenance of your recovery. If you killed someone, say you took a life.
  • Express the fact that you’re deeply sorry for your crime and you understand how it affected the victim, their family, your family and yourself.
  • Tell the hiring manager what you learned from the experience and how you turned your life around. Show them the turnaround packet and go through all of your accomplishments before, during and after incarceration.
  • Ask them if they have any questions, and tell them you’ll be happy to answer them.
Practice your turnaround talk

Carefully prepare your talk and practice it over and over again, so as not to sound memorized or rehearsed. And delivering it sincerely from your heart and effectively should help the hiring manager see that you have learned from your experience, worked hard to improve yourself and are ready to be a productive and valuable employee.


Tips on how to succeed in a video job interview

video job interviewThe coronavirus has changed our lives in many ways, including how we interview for jobs. Although unemployment numbers have soared, some companies are still hiring. They are, for the most part however, using a technique not usually employed in the past – the video job interview.

Tech companies, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Google, were onboard early with the practice, and many others have followed. It’s impossible to know what will happen in the future, but video interviewing may go on for months to come.

How to prepare for a virtual interview

A virtual interview requires the same preparation as a regular interview. You need to:

  • research the company and the hiring manager.
  • put together a list of questions that you will ask.
  • study a list of potential questions that you may be asked and practice them.
  • get a good night’s sleep beforehand, etc.

There are, however, different requirements for these interviews that you should be aware of. Here are some of the things you need to do in preparation and during the interview:

What you need to do differently

Learn how to use the video conferencing software. If you’ve unfamiliar with the video conferencing software the hiring manager will use, look for some online tutorials on how to use it and go through them a few days before the interview

Make sure your technology works. First of all you’ll need a computer with a working camera and microphone. Make sure you have the bandwidth that can accommodate video streaming. Although a computer is preferable, if you don’t have one, you can use your smart phone or tablet. But be sure that whatever you use is propped up and doesn’t need to be held.

Choose a place with no distractions. Choose a quiet place for the interview. This could be a home office, if you have one, or the kitchen table or another quiet place at home. Make sure no one else will be around, and if you have a dog that barks, it might be best to put it outside or ask a friend to take care of it for an hour or two. It’s best to have a blank wall behind you so there are no distractions, and the hiring manager will concentrate on you instead of what else is in the room.

Make sure there’s plenty of light. This could be natural or artificial light, but it’s important that the hiring manager can see you clearly.

Dress professionally. Yes, you’re at home, but you still need to make a good impression. Wear the same sort of outfit that you would if you were going to an in-person interview. Avoid bright colors and elaborate jewelry, however, because these may be distracting online. 

Get there early. This is just as important as when participating in a face-to-face interview, maybe even more so, since it may take a while to sign in.

Look into the camera. This may take some practice, maybe with a friend beforehand, but make sure you’re looking into the camera on your computer rather than the face of the hiring manager on the screen. Looking directly into the camera means you will be making eye-contact with the person interviewing you. And if you’re using your smart phone or a tablet, make sure you’re centered on the screen.

Speak carefully. When video conferencing, there can be lag time between what you say and when the person on the other end hears it, so speak slowly (but not too slowly to sound unnatural), and enunciate clearly. Also wait several seconds after the interviewer speaks to make sure you don’t interrupt them.

Don’t forget the importance of body language. Sit up straight with feet planted firmly on the floor. Make proper eye contact by looking into the camera on your computer. Don’t forget to smile.

Show enthusiasm. You won’t be able to start off the interview with a handshake, but you can show your enthusiasm when you first connect. Begin the interview by saying that you are happy to meet the hiring manager, and thank them for taking the time to talk to you.

Try a power pose. Right before the interview, you may want to try a power pose, but not in front of the computer or with the microphone on. Researchers have found that assuming a power pose for two minutes before an interview gives people the confidence they need to make a favorable impression.

Send a thank you note. Don’t forget to send a thank you note after you finish the interview. Since this can be an email or hand-written note, make sure you have the hiring manager’s email address or physical address, depending on which type you choose to send.


How formerly incarcerated job seekers can create a turnaround packet that will impress potential employers


turnaround packetOne of the most important things those in reentry can do to help conduct a successful job search is to create a turnaround packet and the talk to go with it. And with people sheltering in place, there’s no better time to do it than now.

While we’ve covered this on our website and extensively in our book Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, we’ve never written a blog article about it. And I suddenly realized that fact while sitting in on “Ready, Set, Goal,” an online forum conducted by Oakland, Calif.-headquartered nonprofit Root & Rebound. It was all about what they call a rehabilitation packet and we refer to as a turnaround packet. But it’s basically the same thing. And it can be a very powerful tool.

Packet shows you’ve turned your life around

We originally got the idea from Larry Robbin, a nationally-known expert in the area of workforce development. And its purpose is to convince hiring managers that you’ve turned your life around. You’ve made the effort to improve your skills, character and relationships. You are not the same person you were when you made the mistake that got you incarcerated.

This packet should affirm how you have been rehabilitated and won’t reoffend. It can include a variety of items and be reconfigured depending on the type of job you’re applying for. With people staying at home and many businesses on hiatus, now is the time to spend putting a turnaround packet together.

“Start by making a list of all the accomplishments you’ve achieved since release and even before being incarcerated — leadership positions inside, if you were in the honor dorm, had access to the honor yard, your Involvement with a faith-based community, classes you took, mentoring or sponsoring that you’ve offered, inside and out, everything you can think of,” said Nicole Jeong, Root & Rebound’s Los Angeles site director and senior staff attorney during the forum.

Things to include in a turnaround packet

Here’s what we recommend including (but be sure to only include items that show you have been rehabilitated and are not the same person who offended):

  • Letters from groups you’ve done volunteer work for.
  • School enrollment forms.
  • Certificates of completion of training programs (both pre- and post-incarceration).
  • Courses you took while incarcerated.
  • A clean printout from the DMV, if you have a good driving record. Visit your local DMV office, and ask them to print one out for you.
  • Honorable or general discharge papers from the military, if you served. If it was a dishonorable discharge, don’t include it.
  • Photos of your accomplishments as a volunteer.
  • Copies of award certificates or other forms of recognition.
  • A copy of a clean drug/alcohol report, especially if you were arrested for drug use or have been in an alcohol or a drug rehab program.
  • Documentation of restitution, if you had to pay restitution to a victim or victims.
  • Photos of any hobbies or interests you might have, such as car or motorcycle restoration, dressmaking, artwork, furniture refinishing, gardening or whatever.
  • Photos of family, children and even pets. It can demonstrate you care, that you’ve rebuilt relationships, and are responsible and share common values with the hiring manager.
  • Accomplishments before the offense/incarceration can be good to include as well.
  • Your resume and master application.
  • Copy of your sobriety coin/chit, especially if your conviction was alcohol or drug related.
Don’t forget letters of recommendation

You should also include letters of recommendation, four if possible and two from people that recognize the fact that you have a conviction.

‘Sit down and think about your life and all the relationships you have. It can be someone with whom you volunteer, an employer. People at your church. The pastor. If you’re a member of a community group, get the leader to write a letter,” said Felicia Espinosa, Root & Rebound’s Fresno site director and senior staff attorney, during the online forum. The recommendation letters can also come from former employers or even a landlord who you have a good relationship with.

When you ask people to write a recommendation letter, “Give them as much information as possible. Tell them what you want them to talk about. Be very specific. It makes it easier for them, and you’re going to get exactly what you want,” she said.

For example, if you volunteer for an organization, you might ask your boss to include the fact that you’re a very hard worker, you always show up on time and get along with the staff employees or other volunteers, if that is the case.

Friendly reminders are sometimes needed. Give the person who has agreed to write the letter a sample of what you want included. Offering to draft the letter for them can be helpful for some. And if you do draft any letters, remember that each person’s must be totally different.

Once you gather all of the items together, put each of them into a protective plastic sheet and arrange them in a binder. Make sure the first page has basic information about yourself and a note thanking the hiring manager for taking the time to interview you. If you’d like to give the prospective employer a copy of your turnaround packet, never give them the originals. Take copies of everything.

A lot of work, but worth it

It’s quite a lot of work, but your potential employer is sure to be impressed by your effort and, hopefully, by the changes you’ve made in your life. The process of putting together the turnaround packet will help you realize many positive things to talk about in your interview and give you confidence when the day arrives.

Remember to plan ahead and decide the things to highlight and emphasize that will demonstrate your rehabilitation. This is important, since you may not have enough time to go through your entire packet with the hiring manager during the interview.

A turnaround packet can also be useful to share with your family and friends, as well as in family court and other court proceedings, emphasizing to the court and all those who review it how you truly have changed and been rehabilitated.

In a later blog article, we will discuss the turnaround talk that you can prepare to go with the turnaround packet.

Using proper body language in an interview can help you get the job

body languageExperts say that potential employers will make up their mind about you during the first few seconds after meeting you. And it has a lot to do with body language.

The importance of body language cannot be underestimated. Most job seekers spend hours and hours thinking about and practicing what they’re going to say. But they should also spend some time considering how they’re going to use nonverbal communication to establish rapport with the hiring manager.

It starts with a handshake

It all starts with the initial handshake, which believe it or not, can make or break an interview. When you first meet the interviewer, they will probably offer you their hand.  Watch for their cue before you extend yours. Then squeeze their hand firmly – not too hard or too soft and avoid the limp or “dead fish” handshake, which will make a horrible impression.

Be sure to make eye contact and smile. Even if you might be nervous, let them know that you are happy to be there and excited about the job you are interviewing for.

Eye contact

Making eye contact is an important part of how you communicate. Looking in someone’s eyes helps establish rapport and shows that you are interested. Look them confidently in the eye, but don’t stare. That may make them feel uncomfortable

Be sure to make eye contact with the interviewer when they’re speaking and as much as possible when you’re speaking as well. If you are being interviewed by a panel of people, use what is sometimes referred to as the lighthouse technique. Look from one person to the next pausing briefly at each. But if a particular interviewer asks you a question, make sure to maintain steady eye contact with that person.

Practice using eye contact on a daily basis with friends and family. That way it will seem natural and you will become used to doing it. A good rule of thumb is each time you offer eye contact, make it long enough to notice the color of the other person’s eyes, or a little longer.

Good posture

Don’t’ slouch. Sit up straight in your chair and plant your feet firmly on the floor. This will show that you are confident and ready to tackle the questions that will be thrown your way.

Don’t cross your legs or your arms. Although the reason is open to interpretation, crossed arms are considered negative by most people. They are thought to be a sign of insecurity or a means of putting a barrier between yourself and others.

Put your arms by your side but feel free to gesture. “Talking” with your hands can add emphasis to what you say, but use gestures sparingly.

You will also want to nod your head while the interviewer is speaking to show that you are listening and engaged, and agree with what they’re saying (if you do).

Remember to smile

Like eye contact, a smile can establish rapport with the person or people interviewing you. Make sure you smile and smile sincerely. A smile shows that you are confident, at ease with yourself and will be a pleasant person to work with. It also offers connection and a sense of empathy which can demonstrate that you possess important soft skills, setting you apart from other job candidates.

It ends with a handshake

When the interview is over, the hiring manager will probably want to shake your hand again to conclude the process. Make sure to thank them for taking the time to interview you and put on your best smile.

In the days before an interview, practice your body language techniques to make sure that you’ll feel comfortable and it comes off as natural.

Try a power pose

Right before the interview you can also try a little trick that will improve the way you present yourself. It’s called a power pose – the hands-on-the-hips wonder woman pose or what an athlete does when he raises both hands above his head to celebrate victory after crossing the finish line. Researchers have found that assuming a power pose for two minutes before going into an interview gives people the confidence they need to make a favorable impression. It should also put you in the mindset to use your best body language.

Using the proper body language is an important skill and should help you make a good impression and get the job.



MOD Pizza finds strength as second chance employer

MOD Pizza

Kory Harp, MOD Pizza’s program manager – impact hires

Although named by Nation’s Restaurant News as the fastest growing U.S. restaurant chain in terms of sales for two years in a row, MOD Pizza sees the growth of its employees as more important than financial success.

And it prides itself on being a second chance employer. But second chance at MOD means more than creating opportunities only for formerly incarcerated employees. Although there are plenty of those. In fact, they make up about 21 percent of the company’s workforce.

“MOD gives a second chance to everybody,” says Kory Harp, program manager – impact hires. “We give a second chance to the mom who hasn’t worked in 10 or 15 years and the kid who wants to go to college, but this is his first job. We give everyone a chance no matter who they are.”

And giving those who want it a chance has created a company that’s about more than just pizza. Not to say that MOD’s “made on demand” pizza doesn’t have a following in places where it has opened outlets.

A platform for doing good

The way the company officially defines itself on the “Who We Are” section of its website: “At its heart MOD is a platform for doing good. The idea? If we take care of our employees, they’ll take care of you, and our business will take care of itself. We call it Spreading MODness, and after opening stores across the U.S., we think it’s working.”

Something must be working, or else it wouldn’t have made it to the top of the fastest growing restaurant list. The Seattle-headquartered company had a 44.7% increase in systemwide sales growth in 2018. It grew from 31 locations in 2014 to 476 outlets in 29 states – as well as the United Kingdom and Canada – today.

Part of the company’s success may no doubt be due to the fact that it is a second chance employer, a concept that more and more consumers are beginning to support. And it all began with Harp.

“I came in about 2010 (two years after the company was founded),” he says.” I had just been released from prison. I told them I hadn’t worked for a while, but the hiring manager said she kind of liked me.

Hiring formerly incarcerated employees for a decade

“The thing about MOD that puts us apart is everybody now wants to hire somebody that has a background. It’s the cool thing to do these days, but MOD has been doing that for 10 years. It was started by me.”

He worked really hard for the first six months. “The boss told me to hire more people like me who had the same kind of background. And every single one of us has been a manager at some point,” Harp says.

After Harp had been on the job for about three years, MOD Pizza began to put a big focus on hiring people in reentry. “So that took off to what you see now,” he says. “In the state we’re in (Washington),  66 percent of the residents of some of our districts have records. In the company as a whole it’s 18 percent to 21 percent.”

Although he had originally planned to work only a few months at MOD Pizza, Harp has been there more than a decade. He’s opened 91 MOD stores and trained employees across the nation.

Mentorship program to help employees deal with problems

Currently he’s in the process of creating a mentorship program that will launch in the coming months. The purpose of the program is to help people deal with the problems they’re facing in their lives, whether they’re reentering society from prison, are in recovery or whatever situation they’re facing.

“We’ll go in and help people combat their outside life. For me I didn’t know how to do anything on a day-to-day basis. I could come to work and be great, but I had a lot of trouble with handling ordinary life things. I can’t say what we’re going to be doing yet, but we have a big partner that’s going to help us do it,” he says.

In the meantime, “we are going to continue to build stores and keep the culture. Our main goal is to keep the teams happy and give back to the teams and the communities where they are located.”

Vera Institute of Justice and Root & Rebound issue coronavirus advice to prisons, parole officers and others

coronavirusThe coronavirus pandemic could explode within the walls of prisons and jails. And it could spread even further among those on parole. Although some states and facilities are taking action in these areas, it may be too little too late.

But there are still many things that officials can do. And they may want to follow the lead of two nonprofit organizations – Vera Institute of Justice in Brooklyn, NY, and Root & Rebound in Oakland, Calif. – which have put together excellent practical advice for them to follow in dealing with the prevention or spread of the coronavirus.

Vera Institute of Justice offers advice

Vera Institute of Justice has created a series of guidance reports for use by everyone from prison and immigration detention facility employees to parole and police officers. Each one provides nearly everything that can be done – within reason – to help prevent or contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Prisons, jails and immigration detention and youth facilities 

Among actions for prisons, jails and immigration detention and youth facilities, Vera Institute of Justice recommends that they:

  • Release as many people as possible, especially inmates with a high risk of infection – those who are older, pregnant or have compromised immune systems. And those states that don’t allow discretionary releases should change their policies.
  • Screen everyone entering the facility.
  • Provide free hand-sanitizer and antibacterial soap, and wash clothing, sheets and towels more often.
  • Use videoconferencing and email for staff briefings.
  • Continue classes, jobs and recreational activities, but reduce group size.
  • Create comfortable housing to separate those with symptoms of the virus and the actual disease, rather than put them in solitary confinement cells, which should not be used.
  • Develop a staffing plan to handle employee shortages, and ensure that essential tasks will continue to be performed.
Parole and probation officers

Among recommendations for parole and probation officers:

  • Don’t re-incarcerate those on parole for technical violations, such as missing a parole meeting or not passing a drug test.
  • Terminate probation as soon as possible.
  • Substitute in-person reporting with phone calls or videoconferencing.
  • Suspend all supervision fees to account for lost wages.
  • Create an individual emergency medical plan for those under supervision to prepare for the possibility that they may become infected.
  • Train staff on how to respond if someone under their supervision has coronavirus symptoms or the disease itself.
Prosecutors, defenders and courts

Among recommendations for prosecutors, defenders and the courts:

  • Don’t prosecute minor offenses, including drug possession and theft.
  • Convert as many charges as possible to non-arrest charges.
  • Reschedule court appearances for at least six months in the future.
  • Create a website to resolve cases online instead of through in-court appearances.
  • Judges should determine those on their detained dockets who can be released and make sure they are released.
Root & Rebound recommends changes in parole and probation practices

Meanwhile, last week Root & Rebound sent a call-to-action letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Ralph Diaz and Division of Adult Parole Operations Director Jeffrey Green, as well government officials, all California county probation offices and county boards of supervisors.

The letter urges recipients to “modify parole and probation conditions, policies and practices during this public health crisis in order to protect public health and reduce unnecessary contact between people, which will save lives by slowing the transmission of COVID-19.”

Root & Rebound recommends that parole and probation:

  • Suspend all in-person meetings, except in the case of an emergency. Telephone or videoconferencing should be used instead.
  • Suspend all required classes or groups. Instead offer these on a voluntary or virtual basis.
  • Suspend drug testing and other in-person requirements.
  • Permit people under supervision to leave transitional housing and live with family members, thus reducing crowding and ensuring space for those with nowhere else to go.
  • Create an emergency infrastructure that covers housing, financial assistance and community resources.
  • Help people being released from prison and those under supervision find safe and healthy housing.
  • Provide medical planning pre-release, and help ensure access to healthcare and prescription medications.
  • Provide early termination of probation and immediate discharge from parole for those who meet specific requirements.
  • Cease enforcement of technical violations, and release those already imprisoned for technical violations or inability to pay bail.
  • Not issue violations to people who don’t charge their GPS/ankle monitors, since those who are homeless often use libraries and public spaces to recharge them, and those places are now closed.

Note: We are impressed by the lead that these organizations have taken and would love to hear about actions initiated by other nonprofits. If you are aware of any, please contact us.


Antonio Reza helps pave way for formerly incarcerated who want to become lawyers

Antonio Reza

Antonio Reza

Thanks to the efforts of Santa Clara University School of Law student Antonio Reza and others like him, a growing number of people leaving prison may be headed to law school.

Many prisoners study law while incarcerated. They may want to learn how to challenge wrongful convictions. Or attempt to correct errors in their sentencing. Or pick up knowledge that will help them gain employment upon release. Up to this point, however, not so many have gone on to practice law. But that is changing.

Take Antonio Reza for example. He grew up in what he calls a “rough neighborhood” and lost his first friend to gang violence at the age of 12. When he graduated from high school he knew seven people who had died within a year. And none were older than 21.

His mother kicked him out of the house the day after he finished high school, and he was incarcerated at the age of 19, convicted of the felony one count of second degree armed robbery and received a strike.

“When I got out there were a lot of barriers, and a lot of doors were closed to me. Everybody counted me out. ‘You’re just a felon. You’ll go back,’ they said,” Reza says. “I just wanted to prove everybody wrong.”

Substituted success for re-incarceration

“In doing so, I did the exact opposite of going back to prison.’

And what was the exact opposite? He enrolled in Ohlone College, a community college in Fremont, Calif., played basketball, was a part of student government, got inducted into the honor society and graduated with a 4.0 grade average.

But when he attempted to transfer to a four-year college, he faced the kind of challenges that are only encountered by those with a criminal record.

“When I was applying to transfer, that little box was everywhere. For job applications, for housing, for FAFSA,” Reza says. “All I was trying to do was to get an education, and I had this barrier trying to exclude me again.

“I was so mad all this time. Literally everywhere I turned, that box was there, and every time another door was closed on another opportunity that was not for me.”

But Reza persisted, was accepted to the University of San Francisco with a full scholarship and graduated as valedictorian. “I did everything I could, because I knew I had a second opportunity and didn’t want to waste any chances,” he says.

During his years at USF, he volunteered at a halfway house and started to be an advocate for formerly incarcerated people.

Standing up for the formerly incarcerated

“I knew I had to take a stand. There’s a negative stigma around people with a record, so I wanted to break that,” he says. “I wanted to do that by showing that, ‘yeah,  just because I was a felon, don’t keep me out.’ I started becoming an advocate because people would say, I never knew you were a felon. But what’s a felon?

“I knew that by standing up, I would be making it easier for the next felon. There are phenomenal people who came before me who were formerly incarcerated. These people were trailblazing. They allowed me to get opportunities that I wouldn’t have had. They pushed the envelope, and I’m pushing the envelope just a bit further.”

Through his work at the halfway house and his studies at USF, he became determined to be an agent of change.

“I noticed a lot of changes I felt needed to be made in the legal system, and I couldn’t do  them standing on the outside. I had to be on the inside. I believe that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution.”

So, he applied to 21 law schools. And even then, he noticed the discrimination. He was accepted by quite a few but waitlisted by others that he said, based on his grades and scores, he would have been accepted to and heavily recruited – if it weren’t for his record.

Of the law schools he was accepted to, Santa Clara stood out.

“It is truly a special environment. I can bring who I really am to campus. Just to be normal,” Reza says. “The environment really made a difference. The admission staff really made an effort to recruit me. And they gave me a full ride,” he says.

Creating bar associations for previously incarcerated attorneys

Now in his first year of law school, he is planning to specialize in criminal justice reform. And in the meantime, along with his studies, he’s busy developing two organizations dedicated to giving a voice to formerly incarcerated people who are now lawyers and law students.

Reza is an executive board member and the first student president of the National Justice Impact Bar Association, a new bar association for formerly incarcerated lawyers. As a member, he participated in the Rebellious Lawyering Conference 2020, which is the largest student-run public interest law conference in the U.S. and took place in mid-February at Yale Law School.

He’s also one of the founding members of the California System Involved Bar Association, which attracted 100 attendees to its first annual conference March 7 at UCLA.

“Most attendees (at the California event) were undergraduate students who are thinking about attending law school. A lot of them were justice involved, or their family members were or their kids,” Reza said. There were three panels. One was law school admissions staff explaining how they handle formerly incarcerated applicants. The panel that Reza was on consisted of formerly incarcerated law students and practicing attorneys. The third panel was people in charge of moral character for the State Bar of California.

Advice for those who want to become a lawyer

“It’s possible. It’s going to be hard, but it’s possible. I was told that due to my record I was never going to be able to practice law, but that’s a lie. As soon as you pass the bar, you can practice any kind of law you want. You can even be a tax lawyer, public defender, district attorney or any other type or lawyer you want. You are not limited because you are formerly incarcerated. That doesn’t mean you won’t be discriminated against. You’re going to have to bring your A game, if you’re going to be able to make it,” Reza says.

“The formerly incarcerated community is a really strong and close community. I’d like to encourage whoever is reading this to feel free to contact me. Everyone is willing to help each other out. We’ve all been through it, and we understand what it’s like, so we really try to help each other.

To learn more about Antonio Reza in his own words, check out the TEDx talk he gave at Ohlone College in November. And if you’d like to get in touch with him, please contact us.

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.”