Stop Pretending and Start Attending

One of the requirement of the Bureau of Prisons is to offer a mock job fair. This allows inmates nearing the end of their sentence to gain important skills in resume preparation, filling out a job application, searching for careers and the ever-scary interview process. While on paper, this sounds great, the majority of the mock job fairs I have attended over the years consist of education staff members “pretending” to be employers.

I am currently at USMCFP Springfield, Missouri. Granted, Springfield is a decent size city. It has about 185,000 people. While this isn’t a huge benefit for institutions in more rural areas, maybe the BOP should begin real job fairs. For instance, if a person had six months to a year left on their sentence and they knew that they were going to be releasing to the Springfield area, why not bring in real potential employers.

I know that six months to a year is a long time to wait for an employee to begin work, but it could get their foot in the door at least. An employer could do the actual job interview to determine if the inmate would meet the criteria that that company had set forth for that position. If they did, they could tentatively offer them employment contingent upon their release. One issue that this eliminates is the felony question. Inmates don’t have to lie or try to stretch the truth to make themselves look better because the employer already knows that that inmate has a felony, they are being interviewed in prison. Therefore, inmates can focus more on the positives of the interview process such as their job skills or potential training they have received.

For instance, did you know that inmates are able to become certified in numerous OSHA-related areas? These can range from bloodborne pathogens to confined space entry. Once certified, this skills can transfer to any employer in the United States and carry the same weight as if they had been earned by a non-inmate. If this is something you are interested in, either contact the Supervisor of Industries if your facility has a Unicor operation or the safety manager at your prison and ask them if they offer any OSHA-10 or OSHA-30 training programs?

Another option I have came up with to look for potential employment is via local newspapers. You can always go through the classifieds and find out what companies are hiring to get a general idea on the types of jobs in your area and possibly how much that those positions may pay. Another option, although not always available depending on your mail room, is to have someone send in a local phonebook. While many prisons frown upon white page phonebooks, if you can find a yellow page only version, this could give you some potential opportunities to begin looking for employment.

You can also contact the local chamber of commerce and ask for a list of their membership directory. For those of you who don’t know, the chamber of commerce is a nationwide group that helps support local businesses. For a small fee, businesses become a member and the chamber acts as a cooperative in a way to allow members to assist each other with certain jobs and to promote their business. For instance, a tax preparer who needs lawn service done can contact another chamber member to possibly get a better deal. So with this type of cooperation amongst members, it is a viable form of networking to consider.

Employment upon release is going to be an uphill battle. Despite the legal requirement that a business cannot deny you employment simply because of a felony, but only if it applies to the actual job itself, it happens everyday and unfortunately, there are not many options to help fight this. But, you can better yourself for this by preparing for all scenarios you may come across. As a sex offender, is the business near a school? Some states may prohibit living within so many feet of a school, but may allow you to work at a business within that area. Some states may prohibit it altogether. Your job is to research it. There are several sites out there that can help with this. These include the NARSOL Wiki project at http://wiki.narsol.org and http://www.all4consolaws.org. The problem with this is that many municipalities are constantly changing these laws, so its best to seek proper legal advice if it is something you are really serious about since these sites may not be current.

In closing, I attended my semi-annual program review (team) this past Wednesday and was submitted for halfway house. While I had to argue why I deserved it, in the end, I was submitted for more time than I was expecting. I also, received a recommendation from the Psychology Department for even more halfway house time. So, I’m keeping my fingers crossed on how this works out. After nearly ten years in prison, despite the fact that I have about a year to serve still, the light at the end of the tunnel is finally coming into view.


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