Good jobs are hard to find. For an ex-offender, any job can be hard to find.
A Building Bridges to a Better Community Ex-Offender Job Fair at the London Community Center Thursday was an effort to help these people turn their lives around.
Thirty-six vendors from area businesses and schools participated in the event. Kentucky State Probation and Parole Officer Cheryl Kaberle said most of them will consider ex-offenders for available positions.
“That they will consider ex-offenders offers them hope,” she said. “It was pretty well attended. It surpassed last year.”
Crissy Norman, U.S. probation pre-trial records clerk, said 154 men and women signed in.
Some of the vendors included D.G. Trucking & Equipment, Goodwill Industries of Kentucky, The Job Shop, Union College at the Bennett Center and Tri-State Institute of Hair Design.
J.B. Brown, owner of Tri-State Institute of Hair Design, said he talked to several potential students. Financial aid is available for those who qualify.
James Ferrell, who served time for a non-violent crime, came to the fair in hopes of finding a job. He is having a hard time gaining employment, even at restaurants.
“Especially around here, every time I go into restaurants and put in applications and they do a background check, as soon as they find out I’m a convicted felon, they never return my call,” he said. “If they don’t return my call, they tell me they’re not hiring any convicted felons right now. Basically, everywhere I turn, I get the door shut in my face.”
Ferrell, 32, has been looking for work for seven months — the entire time he has been out of prison. He has a wife and four children to support.
“People around here want to stereotype you because you went to prison,” Ferrell said. “They don’t want to know what you did. They don’t want to know if you’ve been rehabilitated. All they know is that word — felon. That’s enough for them to turn you away.”
Since he has been in prison, Ferrell has received his general equivalency degree and is going to go to Somerset Community College to be an automobile mechanic.
“I’m trying to make something of my life,” Ferrell said. “Even putting that on an application, they don’t want to see that. All they see is convicted felon. I came to the job fair hoping somebody around here will give me a chance. Maybe a job, maybe one in the future, so I can make some money before I start college.”
Before his conviction, Ferrell was making a good wage working at a lumber yard.
“I got into trouble. I made a mistake,” he said. “I’d never been in trouble in my life until then. I lost my job, went to prison, got out of prison and everything is totally different. I was in prison for 22 months. I think I paid my price. With the economy the way it is, right now is the best time for them to look at someone who has paid their debt to society — the same way they’re going to look at somebody else — and give them a second chance. I think everybody deserves a second chance.”
Valerie Young, 28, also a convicted felon, attended the job fair. She was convicted of trafficking in methamphetamine.
Young was in prison for 19 months on an eight-year sentence. She went before the parole board earlier this month and was released.
“I was making meth to support myself, but I was also addicted to it,” Young said. “I went to substance abuse class. It took seven months to complete. I did 13 different programs while I was there to get myself back on the streets.”
Young has two children — a son who is 12 and an 8-year-old daughter. She has been out of prison for two weeks. She had been addicted to meth for seven years.
“I got addicted to it pretty bad,” she said. “Going through the SAP (Substance Abuse Program) in prison really helped me. It really, really helped me.”
Young has applied to several restaurants and many have told her they do not hire convicted felons.
“I’m going to CBS when I leave here to try to find a job,” she said. “They’re like a temp service. I go to college in August. Somerset Community College accepted me as a convicted felon. I plan on studying business technology. I went two semesters before I got incarcerated. They told me they would accept me back there.”
Young and her two children have been living with her father. She is going back to school so that she will be able to support her children.
“I’ve tried every way in the world to get a job,” she said. “It’s hard to get a job being a convicted felon. I didn’t know how hard. That’s why I’m going back to college. The economy is bad about jobs right now. I knew, being a convicted felon, it was going to be hard to get a job. They look down on convicted felons. They don’t want to hire you. They’re afraid you’ll mess up again. They won’t give you a chance.”
Young was supposed to get an interview at a local fast food restaurant, but she never received a call back, even though she has six years of restaurant experience.
“I’m on parole for four years,” she said. “Convicted felons have to have a job because that’s part of their parole. They don’t want to go back to prison. They want to be successful, now. My going back to school will take place of a job. You have to do something to better yourself. That’s what I’m trying to do, to be successful.”
Young said employers do not realize a prisoner has to work an eight-hour shift every day.
“We’re used to working. If we can get a job out here, we’ll continue it,” she said. “We’re used to being out there eight hours. It’s mandatory when you’re locked up.”
While she was in the SAP, she was a recreation crew leader.
“Whenever you graduate from that program, they put you back on the yard and I did JP work, maintenance work around the building, cleaning the buildings,” she said. “Then they shipped me to a halfway house. I lived at the halfway house for five months and worked in the kitchen the whole time I was there.”
Jonathan Ragle, 35, has a fiancée and two children. His fiancée, Brenda Hale, accompanied him to the job fair to help him fill out the forms.
Ragle has been in prison two times — once for six months and once for four months.
“Not long, but long enough to know better,” he said. “I got caught for possession and then I violated my parole.”
Ragle has tried to get a job at several local restaurants but has not found one. He has been looking since he was released from prison eight months ago.
He is on probation for two years and needs a job. His parents have been helping him out and he has been mowing grass.
“They want me to find a job and keep a job,” Ragle said. “I can do plumbing and carpentry work.”
“They categorize us,” he added. “We can’t hire you because you are a felon.”
His fiancée said criminals return to crime because no one will give them a job.
“So many who get out go back to the same crime because they can’t get a job anywhere else,” Hale said. “Most of the ones I know, they have families to take care of. So when it comes down to making money at a job in society, they’re working doing drugs or work for drug dealers or whatever. They’ll do it to make money to feed their kids. You can only get welfare for so long and food stamps won’t buy diapers.”
Hale said the job fair for ex-offenders was much needed.
“It’s about time people did something like this,” she said. “There are places here I’ve never heard of, he never heard of. I didn’t know Goodwill hired ex-offenders. We got these brochures about school, help with education, and help with job training. It’s finally going to help ex-offenders. It’s going to make the quality of their life better. People seem to forget about these people. All ex-offenders are not bad people. People make mistakes but they can change.”
The event was also open to the public. It was sponsored by various community agencies including Laurel County State Probation & Parole, Office of Employment & Training, Laurel Drug Court, Knox Drug Court, United States Probation Office, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Laurel County Detention Center, Clay County JobSight, UNITE, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, London Police Department and Laurel County ASAP.
Staff writer Carol Mills can be reached at email@example.com.