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.

Inmate Kevin Poppen offers excellent job search advice

Kevin PoppenAlthough we are regularly contacted by people in prison, it’s rare to receive a letter that offers the kind of advice we received from Kevin Poppen, who is currently incarcerated at Growlersburg Conservation Camp #33 in Georgetown, Calif. And what we learned from him can go a long way towards helping those who are incarcerated prepare for their lives on the outside.

We heard from Poppen after sending him a copy of our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed. He wrote to thank us for the book and encourage us to include what he refers to as a “reentry journal” in our next edition. And it’s such a good idea that we certainly will but don’t want to wait until then to share it with our readers. We decided to interview him by mail to see what other ideas he has.

Create a reentry journal

The idea to create a reentry journal came to Kevin Poppen when he was in solitary confinement. (He’s been incarcerated for 17 years.) Here’s the story, in his words:

“About four years ago, while sitting in administrative segregation (solitary confinement), I would daydream for hours and hours on end about what I was going to do when I got out of prison. For five months straight, I sat in a concrete box 24 hours a day, was allowed to leave the cell only once every three days for a five-minute shower. I spent five months staring at a wall creating budgets (all with arbitrary numbers, as I had no way of researching anything), playing out whole scenarios in my head about what I would do, where I would go, what I needed to accomplish and what might get in my way.”

One day Poppen grabbed a notebook and started randomly writing down his thoughts into what he describes as a “dream journal.” It even included a floor plan of what his future house would look like. At one point his sister sent him a box from Amazon that included a nice leather-bond notebook. About the same time, Poppen began to read Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed and three other job search books that we recommend. And he started to record useful information in his journal.

How his journal is organized

Poppen has several pages in the front of his “Re-entry Journal” for brainstorming. This section includes random thoughts, ideas, addresses and whatever. The rest of the journal is broken down into sections – housing, employment, nonprofit and social service info, and a detailed to-do list for once he begins his new life.

Where does he get his information? “Although some of the info came from the four books, but a lot of contact information and ideas I have in my journal came from years of slowly collecting. One inmate on the yard may have an inmate resource list of available services, another may have lived at a particular transitional housing location, another may have the address of a nonprofit that sends books to inmates.

“One good book I remember helping quite a bit at the time was published by Root & Rebound. (The organization’s Roadmap to Reentry provides legal information to those leaving prison.) Another way I’ve compiled info over the years is through inmate legal newsletters and magazines, such as Prison Legal News, California Lifer News, and newsletters from the Initiate Justice and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

Deciding what info to include

Poppen narrowed his topics down to the three things necessary for survival – food, shelter and clothing. And what one needs to obtain these things – employment.

Examples of what he included in the different categories:

  • Food – physical and website addresses for nonprofit organizations, government agencies, churches and food banks.
  • Shelter – contact info for transitional housing/sober living residences, Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) info for Section 8 housing options, etc.
  • Employment – Turnaround packet instructions, job search websites, temp agency addresses, and info on how to conduct advance Google searches and use LinkedIn and zoominfo. Also resume ideas, interview questions, a strengths/weaknesses assessment and other useful tidbits picked up from the books he read.
Further preparation

In addition to compiling the information in his Reentry Journal, Poppen is creating a to-do list. That way he can hit the ground running when he gets out.

Here’s a list of the things Poppen plans to do immediately upon release:

  1. Check in at the parole office.
  2. Visit the DMV to obtain an identification card and make an appointment for a driving test.
  3. Visit government agencies to see if he qualifies for assistance (food stamps/general assistance).
  4. Check in with residence (sober living home or transitional living residence).
  5. Go shopping for work clothing.
  6. Start job search.
Change your mindset

While a reentry journal and to-do list will form a roadmap for reentry action, those leaving prison will also need to examine their attitudes, according to Poppen.

“Their heads need to be in the right place. Whatever behaviors or ways of thinking that got them incarcerated in the first place must be ironed out. Do this first,” he wrote.

“Some serious introspection needs to be exercised. I have yet to meet someone in prison whose real problem was the crime they committed. The problem is the underlying factors that caused the behavior in the first place. All the rest is a waste of time if someone isn’t prepared mentally and emotionally. The first step to prepare for reentry is to figure out the real reason one was incarcerated. And then seek help.”

Once that is taken care of, those preparing to leave prison need to assess what their needs are. “Then I would network, network, network. Learn how to write professional letters, and go on a letter writing campaign. Write every nonprofit that deals with inmates. Ask for referrals, and write some more,” Poppen wrote.

At the same time, they should write everything down in a journal and prepare a turnaround packet. “If they don’t have enough content for a turnaround packet, dedicate some time each day (while still incarcerated) to work on the things they need to do to fill out their checklist,” he wrote.

Poppen recommends keeping a day planner to record the dates when people write letters and the dates any responses are received. Write a short synopsis of the content of the letter and its response. That way people can remember what they’ve done and tracked their own progress.

Final advice

And there’s one very important final thing to do, Poppen writes. “Anxiety should be addressed. It’s common for inmates to experience anxiety when thinking about and trying to plan for the future. This seems especially so the longer they have been incarcerated and the closer they get to their release date.

“It’s important they know that this is normal. They need to just put one foot in front of the other, and it will all work out. Being prepared is the best defense. It builds confidence and adds something to the equation.”

How to make an elevator pitch memorable

elevator pitch It isn’t often that we find a unique job search idea that we haven’t heard of before. After all, we’ve been writing blog articles on the subject for nearly eight years now and did a lot of research and gained extensive knowledge through writing our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed.

But recently we came across an article by Priscilla Tan on The Muse website that made us stop and think more creatively about the so-called elevator pitch.

Elevator pitch answers “tell me about yourself” question

Everyone who is searching for a job needs an elevator pitch, a 15- to 30 second speech that job seekers use to sell themselves and to answer the “tell me about yourself” question that almost always pops up in interviews. Its name comes from the fact that you should be able to give it during the time an elevator makes its way between a few floors.

The point of an elevator pitch is to draw attention to yourself and start a conversation. They can be – and usually are — pretty standard and dull. But they don’t have to be. They can go beyond the “I’m  (fill in the blank) who enjoys (fill in the blank) and has accomplished (fill in the blank), or the “what.”

Highlight the “why”

According to Tan, these speeches can speak to the “why” – or why you do the type of work you do. And we feel that they can also tell a story.

Stories can be used to demonstrate where someone finds meaning in their life. Offering the “why” embedded in a story can be a great way to convince someone you are a good fit for a job.

For example, a carpenter might say, “Ever since I was a child I liked to build things. When I was in high school I built a tree house that was the social center for my circle of friends. Since then I have worked on house construction and cabinets and have a special interest in building things from recycled wood, adding touches like stained glass windows from old homes that have been demolished. I love to be a part of creating something beautiful that people can use or live in.”

Another example for someone who works with computers: “I started to use a computer at age 3 and programmed my first video games in elementary school. I taught myself more advanced programming online and now design websites for restaurants and hotels, which I love to do because it brings out my creative side.”

The goal of an elevator pitch is to get hiring managers – and potential hiring managers who you might meet at a party or event – to remember you. It can also be a conversation starter.

Tips for presenting the best elevator pitch

But writing an elevator pitch is just the first step. To make sure that it is as good as it can be, you should:

  • Write it down and practice it every day until it becomes part of you.
  • Record it to see how you sound.
  • Do it in front of your family and/or friends.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Deliver it in a natural way that doesn’t sound memorized (even though it is).
  • Use conventional English – no slang.

Make sure you use your elevator pitch when you meet a new person at a party, event or in your neighborhood. You can never practice too much.

And who knows? One of these people might know someone who knows someone who just might be interested in hiring a person with your skills.

Jails to Jobs offers its job search book free to prison and jail schools and reentry programs nationwide

Over the past two years, Jails to Jobs has given a free copy of its book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, to every jail library in California and to many libraries in prisons and jails across the country. And now it wants to offer a free copy to any prison or jail school or associated reentry program in the country that requests one.

According to many people we’ve heard from and reviews on Amazon, the book is a very helpful resource for those preparing to reenter society or who have already done so.

Jeff Riddick, a teacher at a California correctional facility, is one of those who finds it a good tool. In fact, he told us that when his prison first received the book, he read it every day and still uses it as his main job search reference. And that’s pretty impressive, considering the fact that he began teaching job search skills classes in the 1980s.

“There’s a lot of very useful information that, if applied, can lead you to success. I read it for a while every day. I’d pick a page and read it,” he says. “I keep it with me in the portfolio I carry around all day, and when a guy asks me a question, I pull it out.”

And why does Riddick like it? “It has a lot of positive up-to-date info, as much as a book can have. It’s small, condensed, and not intimidating. It’s a good primer and a good thing to go back to use as a reference,” he says. “The chapters are highlighted which makes it easy to find things. A higher functioning guy, who reads at an 8th or 9th grade level, can get a lot of use out of it. And others as well, with the simplicity of the boxes and the info in the appendices.”

“Every page provides some kind of tip that anyone can use. And to me that’s the most important thing.”

Who can get a free book and how they can get it

Because he has found our book so useful, we’ve decided to expand our giveaway program to more people like Riddick. These people can be teachers at schools within jails and prisons that include job search in their curriculum or plan to, or associated reentry service coordinators like Ken Bailor with Riverside (Calif.) ReEntry Services. They can also be librarians.

If you’re a prison or jail school teacher or reentry counselor offering job search curriculum and coaching, or plan to, or a jail or prison librarian anywhere in the U.S., feel free to contact us for a complimentary copy of Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed. We’ll also include a free PowerPoint presentation that will allow you to offer workshops based on the book.

We hope to place a complimentary copy of the book and PowerPoint presentation into as many jail and prison schools, reentry programs, and lending libraries as possible. And with 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons and 3,163 local jails, we clearly have our work cut out for us.

We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Indiana inmate creates job search PowerPoint presentation

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

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

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

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

She has found her passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improving pre-release job search education

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

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

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

 

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’ 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.

 

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.