WILMINGTON—Local leaders want employers to look beyond people’s pasts.
To bring awareness to the Department of Justice’s “National Reentry Week,” political representatives, business leaders and formerly incarcerated individuals gathered at New Hanover County Local Reentry Council’s “Let’s Say Yes to Second Chances” breakfast.
Held at the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, speakers reflected on recent progress.
In 2016, New Hanover County adopted an internal process that does not require potential applicants to answer questions pertaining to their criminal history. An employer of 1,745 employees, New Hanover County has directly hired 12 individuals from the non-profit, Leading Into New Communities (LINC).
LINC acts as a refuge for people making the uncomfortable transition out of prison and into society. Frankie Roberts, executive director, urged employers to be empathetic toward people who have a criminal history.
“Language is important,” Roberts said. “We do not call individuals who have spent time in prison or have a criminal history … ex-offenders, we do not call them felons, we call people, people.”
Roberts helps house dozens of those returning from prisons and jails in LINC and works to connect them with a second chance.
“We would want a person to not be remembered based on their worst mistake,” Roberts said.
Ban the box
Referred to as “banning the box,” the process of skipping an applicant’s criminal history has been adopted by several area employers.
According to Representative Holly Grange, nearly one in three Americans have a criminal record.
“People who are released from incarceration who cannot find a job, usually within three years usually are reincarcerated at a rate of about 68 percent,” Grange said. “Second chance hiring practices improve the local economy.”
Grange cited Castle Branch, Dillard’s, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Belk, Whole Foods Market, Coastal Horizons Center Inc., Embassy Suites by Hilton Wilmington Riverfront, Matthews Motors and T.A. Woods Company as employers in the area that have adopted the practice.
“It makes me very proud of our community that we take care of these people,” Grange said.
After legislation passed in the North Carolina House of Representatives last April, Grange is optimistic about getting HB 409 passed in the Senate. HB 409 is a bi-partisan bill that aims to reduce barriers to employment at North Carolina agencies for individuals with a criminal history.
“Senator Michael Lee has offered and agreed to take it to the Senate floor for a vote,” Grange said.
A new gang
For Joseph Jones, landing a job during his reentry process was a chance at a new life.
Jones grew up in Newark, New Jersey, where he said joining a gang was about survival.
“People would say that gangs are useless,” Jones said. “For me a gang is basically like family – A lot of people don’t realize that.”
Now the head mechanic at Matthews Motors, Jones credits its owner Steve Matthews for seeing his potential. Across town, TRU Colors Brewing has also embraced the formerly incarcerated.
At TRU Colors Brewing, staff members are required to keep their gang affiliation in order to maintain influence. Dune Waddell is TRU Colors Brewing’s brewing culture captain and has been a G.D. 720 gang member for 18 years.
He now works alongside active Bloods and Crips gang members.
“To be honest, there were times that me and these guys, we couldn’t be at the same stoplight –(or) Walmart,” Waddell said. “These guys are my brothers.”
Hiring practices that give formerly incarcerated people a chance to explain their mistakes have given people like Waddell and Jones their dignity back.
“It helped me stay focused,” Waddell said.
Johanna Ferebee can be reached at email@example.com or @j__ferebee on Twitter