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.”

Root & Rebound publishes toolkit to enlighten employers on the value of hiring ex-offenders

Root & ReboundOakland, Calif.-based nonprofit Root & Rebound has published the California Employers’ Fair Chance Hiring Toolkit. This 28-page toolkit is not just an exceptional resource for companies and organizations that are committed to – or considering – hiring those with criminal records. It can also be used by jobseekers from that population as a persuasive tool to enlighten potential employers on the considerations and benefits they would gain from hiring them.

Although it may be hard to believe, nearly one out of three Americans has a criminal record. As the economy continues to grow and demand for additional workers steadily rises, it will become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to ignore that segment of the population.

In fact, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in 2014 between 1.7 and 1.9 million U.S. workers weren’t hired because they had criminal records. This resulted in an estimated loss of $78 to $87 billion in annual gross domestic product.

Hiring fair chance employees makes economic sense

Hiring those with criminal records makes economic sense both in the big picture and for companies themselves, but most employers still need to be convinced.

More than 40 large corporations and nearly 250 small- and medium-sized businesses, however, have already taken the Fair Chance Business Pledge created by the Obama White House in late 2015. These businesses have promised to give people with criminal records, including those who have been incarcerated, a fair chance at employment. We suggest you review these businesses that have taken the pledge to see if there are any you might want to consider adding to your list of 100 employers to pursue.

While this is a beginning and brings attention to the issue, it’s crucial that more companies become committed to hiring second-chance employees. And that’s where Root & Rebound’s toolkit comes in.

Toolkit provides extensive info for all employers

Although it’s geared toward California employers, much of the advice and most of the action steps it recommends can be useful to employers no matter which state they operate within.

The California Employers’ Fair Chance Hiring Toolkit covers:

  • The rewards of hiring fair chance workers.
  • The best practices for onboarding and training fair chance workers.
  • How to choose a reliable background check company.
  • Legal compliance and minimizing risks involved.
Giving copy of Toolkit to the hiring manager shows initiative and having their best interests in mind.

As you interview for jobs, along with your turnaround packet you may want to print out and provide the hiring manager with a copy of the toolkit to offer them information on the additional benefits that they might receive by hiring you and what steps they need to take to do so. If you live in California, this toolkit covers all the basics that an employer needs to know. If you live in another state, check with your local American Job Center to ask for help in adding relevant state-related information.

Benefits of hiring fair chance workers

The toolkit includes evidence that fair chance employees can benefit a company or organization by highlighting:

  • Case studies of companies that have hired second-chance employees with great success. For example, Johns Hopkins Health System & Hospital, Dave’s Killer Bread and Butterball Farms all have hired a substantial number of employees with criminal records and found that their turnover rate is lower than that of those without records.
  • Testimonials from executives of companies that have been actively hiring fair chance employees for many years.

Root & Rebound’s California Employers’ Fair Chance Hiring Toolkit is very well put together and an excellent resource for both employers and job seekers alike.

 

Root & Rebound’s Roadmap to Reentry offers legal info to those leaving prison

Roadmap to ReentryOakland, Calif.-based nonprofit Root & Rebound has published Roadmap to Reentry: A California Legal Guide. This extremely comprehensive 1,192-page guide, available in both print and electronic editions, covers all the important legal issues that those leaving prison or jail may need to know about and outlines steps they can take to deal with them.

Although Root & Rebound is a legal service provider and advocacy organization, its Roadmap was not just created for lawyers. It is also for those nearing release from prisons and jails, people already in reentry, case managers, community supervision officers, family and friends. And anyone else who would like to be better informed about the various issues and challenges faced by those attempting to get their lives back together post-incarceration.

Root & Rebound describes its Roadmap to Reentry as a legal toolkit. It does not take the place of an attorney, but rather “is a legal resource designed to provide the 50,000 people released from prison and jail across California every year with access to understandable, empowering legal information that can help them make informed choices, prepare them for the barriers they may encounter, and ultimately help them thrive and succeed in reentry.”

Guide includes examples of documents and forms

In addition to an encyclopedic amount of information, the Roadmap to Reentry guide includes examples of the types of documents and forms that many people in reentry may need to fill out. Although it is California specific, the publication also covers federal laws, so even people in other states can benefit from the guide.

Roadmap to Reentry: A California Legal Guide includes a chapter for each of the major areas of law that those in reentry may have to deal with.

Areas of law covered

  • Obtaining I.D.s and voting – covers types of IDs and how to get them, as well as voting rights and how to register to vote.
  • Parole and probation – helps readers understand various forms of supervision and how they affect the lives of those in reentry.
  • Housing – explores housing options that may be available, and offers tips on how to find and apply for a place to live.
  • Public benefits – outlines public benefits programs and their eligibility and enrollment rules, as well as the application process.
  • Employment – covers the job application and interview process, discrimination, dealing with background checks and one’s record, the hiring incentives offered to employers and alternatives to traditional work, including self-employment.
  • Court-ordered debt – explains the different types of court ordered debt, including court fines and penalties, and restitution, and how to deal with them.
  • Family and children – summarizes the steps that people in reentry must take to reconnect with their children after incarceration, as well as child support, custody and other issues that those in reentry may have to deal with.
  • Education – explores available educational options and how to choose, apply to and pay for the best one.
  • Understanding and cleaning up criminal records – describes the various types of criminal records, how to obtain copies of them and how to find and fix any errors they may contain.

Already accessed by more than 20,000 people

Thus far, more than 20,000 people have had a chance to be educated through the Roadmap to Reentry guide, 13,400 by reading the book and 7,400 by accessing the guide online. You can be one of those too.

A hard copy of Roadmap to Reentry: A California Legal Guide is available – a donation is requested to cover the cost of shipping for personal use, and a charge for organizations using it as part of their programs – by ordering online. It’s also possible to download an electronic version of the publication.

In addition to its publication, Root & Rebound has created the Roadmap to Reentry Online Training Hub that includes videos, fact sheets and other resources to help people become better informed about how to deal with legal and other barriers to reentry in California.