Help a felon find employment!
July 27, 2006 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Advice for a convicted felon trying to find work?

My brother-in-law is trying desperately to find work. He has several, quite unappealing felonies on his record (I don't know the exact charges but they have to do with weapons, burglary or breaking-and-entering, and DWI -- possibly drugs as well, since I know he's been in court-mandated rehab). About two years ago he completed the second of two sentences in county lockup and has been drug- and crime-free since.

This person is 24 years old and is under medical treatment for bipolar disorder and ADD. He is a high school graduate, but has not pursued any vocational training beyond that (this is not a possibility now, either, due to financial constraints and a need to gain employment ASAP to support himself). Previous jobs have included kitchen work in a restaurant, food prep and counter work in a deli/bagel shop, roofing, and warehouse jobs. He has left these jobs due to either conflict with management/coworkers, or a lack of steady hours.

Now, understandably, he's having tremendous difficulty lining up any kind of work. Most employers seem to automatically exclude anyone with a felony conviction (or at least pass him over in favor of applicants without this type of background). He tried the county's job placement office, but due to his criminal record and bipolar disorder, he was classified as "mentally handicapped" and they put him in a group of severely developmentally disabled people and asked him to participate in "tests" such as toddler-level puzzles. This was embarrassing and insulting to him, and the constant rejection from any type of employment opportunities is making him feel like it's going to be impossible to turn his life around.

Surely some options hear all the time of convicted sex offenders, even murderers, being employed at the time of their latest crime. Ideal jobs would have steady hours (40+ per week), some sort of merit-based advancement opportunity, and limited contact with the public. If it makes a difference, this is in central Maryland (Howard County). Any ideas?
posted by justonegirl to Work & Money (28 answers total)
I just want to point out that while you mention your brother looked into job placement services, there's often state programs that give federal aid to people classified as mentally handicapped (ie bipolar) to go back to school. They pay tuition and, often, living expenses. I'm in PA and my neighbor (bipolar) is doing just that. Just one possible avenue to explore...
posted by theantikitty at 8:52 AM on July 27, 2006

back when i was a defense attorney, i rarely had success finding employment for clients after conviction. most often, their best chance was with relatives or friends. once they had a solid year+, sometimes they were able to move on to something else. truth is, he's going to have to suck up irregular hours and less than fair treatment until his convictions are *far* behind him. it's not fair and it's part of the (many complicated) reasons for recidivism.

if county services is useless (which they often are), he can try contacting private social services (churches, if you belong to one, are extraordinarily helpful in finding second or third or fourth chances for people). he should also call whatever legal aid societies (or legal aid clinics at local law schools) and see if they can suggest a placement service.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:55 AM on July 27, 2006

If he has any interest in long haul trucking, I have heard that Con-Way Trucking only hires ex-cons. The (purely anecdotal) story I heard was that the head of the company is a born-again Christian who wants to help out ex-cons so they don't go back to a life of crime. I have no direct experience with the company myself.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:56 AM on July 27, 2006

Previous jobs have included kitchen work in a restaurant, food prep and counter work in a deli/bagel shop, roofing, and warehouse jobs. He has left these jobs due to either conflict with management/coworkers

These are precisely the kinds of jobs felons can get -- each has the potential for 40hr weeks and merit-based advancement. But the second sentence doesn't bode well for your brother in law's future.

Years ago, when I was in college (the first time around), I worked as a kitchen manager for a large chain sit-down seafood restaurant. Like most restaurants, finding people to work in the harsh, hot kitchen conditions was hard, and we wrote off only the most eggregious of applicants. For instance, we had a dishwasher who was a convicted rapist. Real charmer, that guy.

Anyway, I'd say nearly 2/3 of the back-of-the-house staff was comprised of felons and former or current drug addicts. Some of them, you pretty much knew they were just taking a break from jail, and would soon be back behind bars. Others seemed to be making a real effort to actually improve their lots in life.

It was tough work -- we're talking minimum wage here for guys that often had several kids, and life for many of them was a constant struggle of unreliable cars, ratty apartments and the temptation of going back to more lucrative, but illegal activity. I really admire people who can rise above that cycle.

But most of them didn't last long, because they just couldn't get along with their coworkers, harrassed the servers, etc. Perhaps your brother in law needs to learn how to get along better with other people. I'd also suggest he not include his mental illnesses on his resume, or expect any sort of concessions from employers.

Finally, many communities have nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping disadvantaged people find jobs. Crysalis is a good example from so-Cal. Good luck.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:59 AM on July 27, 2006

If he is able to move, he could move to a jurisdiction where one cannot discriminate based on criminal history.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:00 AM on July 27, 2006

Some of my own thoughts:

(A) Somehow go to college and perhaps do graduate work later, and milk all the professional networking he can. Age 24 is really young... the only question is how he can pull off grants/loans and hold temporary jobs to get through school. He can also build credentials and a reputation doing graduate work to help try to trivialize the felony. He may still have some employment snarls, especially with big institutions, but being able to tap a network of professionals and having old school chums running startup companies, he'll have a huge playing field of options.

(B) The other option is to put "no" to the felony question on employment applications. IANAL but I am almost certain that this is NOT illegal but is simply a civil matter, providing he's not applying for something like daycare or some sort of licensed trade. The worst that can happen is they do a background check and tell him to get lost. This won't work for getting a job at IBM of course, but a lot of businesses don't run checks, particularly small businesses and quite a few entry-level positions. If he starts small, it may not come up later -- and even if it does, he has still scored a nice period of employment.

(C) Travel away from central Maryland. Maybe other locales have jobs that suit him better.

I think "A" is the better route... making a career out of minimum-wage jobs is a road to ruin.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:09 AM on July 27, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice so far. A couple of issues I should have clarified in the original post, that may affect future suggestions:

1. Unfortunately, he does not have a driver's license nor can he obtain one in the foreseeable future (I think this may have something to do with the convictions but I am not sure).

2. I don't know that college would be a possibility, ever. He is bright, but struggled miserably through high school, attending at least 3 or 4 before finally graduating. He has reading and attention span issues and lacks the discipline it takes to succeed in college/grad school. In addition, while it might not be the most lucrative option, he has a need to earn money now and I don't see him understanding the possible benefits of studying hard for several years in order to make things better for himself down the road. (It's sad to say, but it's that now-now-now mentality that probably contributed to his troubles and his current predicament).
posted by justonegirl at 9:19 AM on July 27, 2006

I used to work for a courier service, and often the only requirement we had was that the applicant had a current driver's license and their own insured vehicle. It's probably not a living wage (most couriers are paid on commissions), but it could be a good second job.

Can he move to Chicago? The Safer Foundation is a local group that helps the formerly incarcerated. Maybe a phone call to them would help you find a similar group in Maryland?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:28 AM on July 27, 2006

Oops, sorry, I didn't see your info about not having a driver's license. Cancel the first part of my post.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:33 AM on July 27, 2006

I"m not sure which (if any) trade unions with apprenticeship models accept felons, but this could be a good route for him.

These unions generally train you for several years in a particular craft or trade (electrical, carpentry, etc). AT the end (sometimes 5 or more years) you get paid quite handsomely as a journey-level worker. And the great thing is that you start getting paid right away because you start working right away - classes are generally at night or only a few days a week.

It would be a big commitment, but he may respond better to an educational environment that emphasized the actual on the job training - and that paid.
posted by serazin at 9:34 AM on July 27, 2006

Check with your local Goodwill. They exist to help disadvantaged and disabled people find jobs. They can help provide some training and job coaching in addition to finding a job, which might help him stick with it.
posted by babar at 9:45 AM on July 27, 2006

I was going to suggest skilled trade work as well. Around here if you can walk upright and show up everyday you can make more than minimum wage. And like serazin said you get paid to go to school in some cases. To get your foot in the door start visiting construction project offices. They are often hiring physical labourers and your only up front cost is a pair of safety boots.

Obviously he won't be able to work in Canada but we've been told that the oil sands project appetite for labour has raised trade wages across both the US and Canada. Is he restricted from leaving the state?
posted by Mitheral at 10:10 AM on July 27, 2006

"He has left these jobs due to either conflict with management/coworkers, or a lack of steady hours."

Even folks with no criminal records at all have that exact same problem. You can get him all the jobs in the world but if he's unable to work out personality issues without quitting the jobs, it's not going to hep anybody out in the long run.

If he can get another job and keep it for a long period of time, that might look good to other potential employers. He's only 24. Hopefully he can get on the right track and stay there!
posted by drstein at 10:26 AM on July 27, 2006

I got a part time landscaping job this summer that pays $12 an hour simply by responding to the help wanted ad and making a good impression with the company owner. No questions were asked about my previous employment or personal history. I think the interview was essentially when I showed up on time my first day and worked hard. Your brother in law should contact small business owners and present himself as having a good work ethic. They are often interested in hiring people under the radar (no taxes out of my meager paychecks!), so there will be no formal employment process. I'm sure he could then get a good reference in a year or two and go on to better things.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 10:37 AM on July 27, 2006

Oh, and I've learned how to drive a bobcat and excavator and am learning masonry. I think my boss has to make over $100,000 a year landscaping for KC nobility, and he started off as just another member of a landscaping crew.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 10:41 AM on July 27, 2006

The Delancey Street Foundation specializes in hiring former felons and drug addicts and helping them turn their lives around.

It started here in San Francisco, but apparently they now have branches in several other locations, including Greensboro, NC, which is not THAT far from MD.

At the very least, they might have some useful advice for your brother-in-law. Good luck to him!
posted by trip and a half at 11:00 AM on July 27, 2006

.. making a career out of minimum-wage jobs is a road to ruin.

college is great option if you have rich parents to send you there. it is a great place for networking, finding a lucrative career, becoming a yuppie, etc. my parents didnt have any money to send me to college so for the two years since leaving high school I have been working a minimum wage job and spending my free time reading in the library. ive learnt way more than i ever would have in college and at my job i can zone out and think about things. I've saved up 30k some of which i will use to buy a nice camper van to live and travel in. the moral of the story being, different things can work for different people, and many people who work lower-paying jobs dont live in "ruin" and in fact can be quite happy compared to those with college debt/ stressful corporate jobs
posted by petsounds at 11:38 AM on July 27, 2006 [2 favorites]

Actually trip and a half, Delancy is a residential, unpaid program for felons (often as a sentancing alternaitve) and drug addicts. They don't 'hire' anyone - there is only one paid staffer and that is the founder. But they do provide solid job training and life skills to the residents (who also run the place).

If your brother in law ever falls off the wagon, I WOULD highly recommend Delancy. A close friend of mine is a graduate and she was transformed by the experience in a way I couldn't have imagined.
posted by serazin at 12:09 PM on July 27, 2006

Do you think he'd have an easier time getting along with people if they were his clients & customers, rather than co-workers and bosses? A small service business of his own might be an option. Unfortunately, all I can think of right now are things he'd probably need a drivers license for.
posted by Good Brain at 12:12 PM on July 27, 2006

petsounds has a good point. There isn't any one path. Find something that works and pursue it. College isn't a great path for this guy, and only someone from Metafilter's quite clueless demographic would even think to suggest it. I mean hell, he's trying to figure out what he's going to afford to eat tomorrow, not what kind of doctorate he wants to go for! Sheesh.

What's happened to your brother-in-law might seem unfair to him. Now that he's out again, he's down to the point where he's desperate, and desperation will do weird things to people. It blinds their ability to look to the future and their ability to solve their own problems without outside help.

Dumb question: is he on parole? Could his parole officer help?

Oh, and keep in mind that he may not actually be bipolar -- he might have other medical issues that seem to be bipolar disorder. I've had two friends that, independently, were diagnosed as being bipolar and were heavily medicated. Both were later found out to have thyroid issues that were very treatable with a minimal amount of the *right* medication. The best thing he could do for himself right now would be to get a job where he could afford some good care for himself. The likelihood of him finding a job with benefits is, well, *shrug*.

I'll 2nd and 3rd the landscaping companies and other small businesses, trade unions, and jobs that have been done by traditionally blue collar rednecks... but aren't likely to have a large population of ex-cons in them. Road construction companies. Fishing. Dirty but steady jobs with high turnover that are physical and demanding, but pay decently.

Grocery stores are one option that he might look into. I know that the local grocery store makes a point out of hiring felons, as they get a bonus from the state government for it. (Of course, the other population they hire extensively from are cute high school girls, and I'm not quite sure how that works out when it comes down to it...)

Oh, and absofuckinglutely do NOT lie on the job app where it asks if you've been a felon. For some categories of felon, (i.e. sex offender), it's illegal. On top of that, even if he had a chance getting the job, an elementary background check will show the felony and completely eliminate the opportunity he would've had of getting any job with that company EVER. And if the employer finds out about it later, i.e. if a parole officer shows up or if he gets called into court or called under suspicion for something and has to explain why -- the employer's gonna feel cheater. BAD idea, rolypolyman. Really really really really bad idea.
posted by SpecialK at 12:19 PM on July 27, 2006

This plastics company in Baltimore hired a couple of my friends straight out of the post jail halfway house some years ago. I don't know whether they do that regularly or whether there was some pull or friendship thing but I'd say they're worth a try. It's a long commute from Howard County, yes, and the work is industrial factory work, which means noise and fumes and weird chemicals and danger, but generally I heard that the people were pretty nice and the pay, while not great, was okay.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:58 PM on July 27, 2006

He should definitely be in touch with the Maryland Job Service. I make this obvious point because, well, too often people seeking employment don't do the basics, and a lot of employers with entry level jobs, who might accept ex-cons for warehouse work, recruit exclusively through state employment agencies, who sometimes do their screening. They know turnover is high, and they minimize employee acquisition costs this way.

In a similar vein, I urge your brother-in-law to register with every temporary work agencies. For many employers, temp-to-hire is the only way they fill warehouse, production, and maintenance jobs. The temp-to-hire mechanism gives them 100% control of the process of looking at a new potential employee, with 0% exposure to discrimination charges, or other hiring problems. Usually, these businesses will have an ongoing relationship with one or two temp agencies, and employ people for from 90 to 180 days as temps, before making an employee offer for those they want to hire. It's a good road for both the employees, who may get several assignments before finding one that really fits them, and for the employers, who save a lot of hiring and training expense in filling entry level jobs.

And I agree completely with SpecialK: don't be anything less than totally truthful on employment applications.
posted by paulsc at 1:00 PM on July 27, 2006

I knew a guy who worked as security at a meat packing plant. He said the vast majority of the employees were ex-cons. In fact, they had one career criminal who had worked his way up to management and become very proficient at running things. He knew all the employees and the whole setup inside and out. When he was busted again, the bosses feared the place would fall apart without him and they worked something out where he was given a cell phone (no pun intended) so that he could continue running the operation from prison.
posted by Clay201 at 2:41 PM on July 27, 2006

You do not explicitly mention this so I feel compelled to point out: has he tried getting work as a salesperson? if not, could he be a good one?

If the answers are no and yes you may consider suggesting he try his luck working sales -- he will likely have the easiest time getting employment selling goods that cannot easily be stolen (service plans, timeshares), but you will be surprised how many black marks many sales hiring directors are willing to overlook for someone who has the gift.

I should caution that for all but the very few sales is tremendously draining and has little worthwhile future, but it could easily be a way to get on a positive track.
posted by little miss manners at 3:47 PM on July 27, 2006

I think that it should be pointed out, that if the young man in question has any drug-related convictions, he will not be receiving any federal money for higher education anytime soon. Thanks War On Drugs!

This is the exact problem that promotes such a high recidivism rate among former convicts, and is one of the most powerful weapons deployed in the class warfare against minorities over the past few decades.

I wish him good luck. With hard work, an open mind, and supportive family I hope that he can turn his life around.

It's a shame that the system punishes those who had misadventures early in their adult life.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 6:01 PM on July 27, 2006

justonegirl! I understand where he's coming from. I am an addict thats been clean for about 6 yrs now and have had the same poor job for 3 yrs now. I Understood at first why good places of employment wouldnt hire, but i have recently been trying to get into some good places and as was the case before Im being judged from my felony record of 7 yrs ago. Im a welder by trade and a very good one. I recently went to American La France for a welding job. I took 3 seperate welding test for 3 diffewrent people and all said it was very good work. Well i put down on the application i was a convicted felon but it didnt come up till i was being interveiwed in the 3rd hour. Then i told everything. I was an addict and was not a good person for many yrs and about how i changed my life around that i was at my present job for 3 yrs and so on and so on. Well even though everything was great they chose to judge me by my past of yrs ago. This has happened to me many, many times now. I am having to stay at a job where they pay isnt good, we get slow and work 30hrs a week sometimes, and im starting a family.HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO DO IT? Im getting so frustrated. Any job that would give me a chance would see, but if your a convicted felon no matter how long ago you will never move ahead. That is where im at today. All i need is a chance and i cant buy one. I even went to college for a yr for welding and fabrication with a GPA of 3.79, have welding certifications, etc and it doesnt matter. Im so upset with the employers of today. I know this doesnt help but i just had to tell you i relate and get some frustration of my own out. Thankyou. Take care and tell him to keep doing his best. Derrek
posted by dcreich76 at 8:18 AM on February 7, 2007

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