Two People Who Had Been Recently Released From Prison Turned Out To Be Model Employees

Sunday, March 01, 2009

It was two days before McQucio Moore's Salad Creations store was to open in Westfield Annapolis mall. But he didn't have enough employees. For the previous three months, which included the busy Christmas season, Moore had perched a large help-wanted sign on the front of the store. "Not a single person called," he said. Moore did something he didn't think he'd ever do: He hired two people who had been recently released from prison. To his surprise, they turned out to be model employees who still work for him a year later. Moore knows too well how difficult it can be for a person with a criminal history to get a job. He worked as a parole officer for 10 years in Washington, D.C., before starting his business in Annapolis. One of the biggest challenges he faced was getting his clients a job, he said. "If they don't have a job, they're almost guaranteed to re-offend," Moore said. "That doesn't make any of our communities safer." Even knowing that, he said he hesitated about hiring prior offenders. "Honestly, as a new business owner, my initial knee-jerk reaction was to say no," he said. "But I knew better than that I just knew, I knew in my heart that's not right." Without lowering any of his business standards, he hired some recently released people. They had to pass cognitive and psychological tests and interview with him first, just as anyone else would have. To "detect someone who's sincere about their employment," Moore uses some of the skills he acquired as a probation officer. Not all of them worked out. He said he's hired six people who recently were released from prison, and only two lasted. But the turnover among that group has been less than among other employees. He plans to continue the practice, he said. "What type of society do we live in if we don't give anybody second chances?" he asked. Sonya Blevins, 29, is a manager at the store. She credits her success to Second Genesis and Moore. After spending five years in prison, Blevins was enrolled in Second Genesis, which offers drug and alcohol rehabilitation. It's a nonprofit residential program designed to help people recently released from prison get back on their feet, and has a location in Crownsville. Treatment programs includes group therapy, vocational therapy and relapse prevention. At first, Blevins didn't want to be there, and she was almost kicked out of Second Genesis, she said. But she has worked hard to get where she is now. She had only been looking for a job for two days, and said she thought it would be tough because of her criminal background. She walked in to Salad Creations, where two other Second Genesis residents had just started working, to seek employment. Moore offered her a job that day. "He said be here tomorrow at 8. I've been here ever since," she said. Blevins since has moved to Cecil County because of a custody arrangement, but she continues to commute more than an hour each way to work. There's a comfortable and supportive setting, and she feels she can advance at the store, she said. "Without (Moore) giving me the chance that he gave me, I don't know, everything might be different," she said, tears building in her eyes. Blevins said she begin abusing drugs when she was about 12. Her problem started with cigarettes and marijuana and moved to harder drugs. She was arrested and spent time in jail three times, on charges including drug distribution and theft. "Prison doesn't do anything but house you," she said. "It teaches you to do more crime." It wasn't until she got out of prison that she learned how to deal with what caused her problems. Second Genesis taught her why she ended up with as a drug abuser, and helped her understand that drugs weren't the answer. It changed her life, she said. "I don't have the desire to ever use," Blevins said. "There's no going back to that lifestyle." Julian Harris has been at the store for almost a year. He is an assistant supervisor and had been looking for work for about a month when he was hired. Moore saw "it in his heart to give me a chance and give me the break I needed " said Harris, who had spent time in prison on burglary charges. "I needed that job offer bad." Eugene Nater also recently was released from prison. He's just started at Salad Creations and works in delivery. He said he'd been looking for a job since he was released in November. "A lot of people really didn't want to hire me," he said. While looking for jobs, he'd go to businesses with help-wanted signs. But once they learned that he had a criminal record, many of them suddenly lost interest, he said. "People just think, 'Oh, he's been incarcerated, he must be a bad person,'" he said. He was sent to prison for drug dealing and spent 13 1/2 years behind bars, Nater said. But now, he's "wasted enough life," he said. If people can't find work after their incarceration, they are likely to revert to their old ways, Nater said. "People think they have to do bad things to survive," he said. He said that, while working, he sees people he knows from his former life as a drug dealer, including police officers who recognize him. "They look at me as a better person now," he said with a smile.

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