I started this journey about a year ago and was prepared for some challenges but nothing like what I have come across in the past year. I knew that our criminal justice system was a mess and I have heard from several different politicians how we need criminal justice reform. I agree, we need something but is criminal justice reform all we need? How do you really reduce recidivism?
When I started The Plan B Foundation one of the things that I continued to say was that I wanted to help people with whatever they need to help them keep a full time job. I was asked several times what that means. When you are released from prison, you may want to start fresh and not repeat the same patterns that got you into trouble in the first place. Unfortunately you often times are forced to go back to the same neighborhood and are surrounded with the same people you were hanging with before you went away. If you are an addict or an alcoholic they recommend you changing your circle of friends when you try to get clean. When you are involved in gangs or are living life on the street, it is the same thing, you need to get away from the trouble that got you where you are today. How do you do that? People think that getting a job and becoming a tax paying citizen is easy and then things will just get better for you. That is not as easy as one would think, there is a cycle that ex offenders often get caught up in that is very hard to break.
The best way for me to explain what I mean is to give you some stories of what The Plan B Foundation has been doing for the past six months.
A former gang member who works for me was willing to get up and to travel the long distance to work using public transportation, he just wanted to work and would do what it took to get out to the suburbs to work. The problem was he could not just stand on a street corner at a bus stop like other people, he was involved in a gang previously and just because you leave the streets and change your life does not mean that he walks around wearing a sign saying that he is a changed man. He still looked like he was involved in a gang, and he had to move from where he had grown up so that he was away from the people that he used to be involved with. In the new area he was unknown to the gangs and if he stood at a bus stop waiting for a bus to go to work, he would be putting himself in harm’s way every day. I couldn’t take the chance of him getting shot while he was trying to go to work. So, with him I used a ride share to get him to Oglivie train station and he took the train out to wherever we were working until he was able to save enough to get himself a car. As of right now he still needs to get out of the city of Chicago because he has become a target one to many times and recently was shot again because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is not safe for him in the city, but where can he go? He has no money and no credit history to move to someplace safer. I am still working with him on finding a solution to this problem because he wants to work and change his life for his daughter. His life is still worth just as much as anybody else’s and he wants to work with me to change the lives of other people who are living the life that he once led, but how can I keep him safe until we find him a permanent living solution? His is an ongoing problem that I am hoping to one day help him with so that he can live a life free of violence and be in a place in his life where he can work to support himself and his child. His prior choices should not dictate his future dreams.
I worked with a young man for only a few weeks because unfortunately he was an addict and I just didn’t have the resources to help him. I had to let him go from the construction company but I kept in touch with him until he finally ended up back in jail. I must have made an impression on him because he kept my number and in jail he met someone who was ready to change his life and start working to support his family. My ex employee gave him my number and told him to call me when he got out of jail. It was one of the first things that he did when he got out and he went on and on about how this guy told him all about me. I really liked this guy so I brought him on to work with us. He has turned out to be an amazing worker, he is young and can really turn his life around. However, he doesn’t have a license because of his prior choices. I do not think that anybody should be allowed to go around breaking the law and getting a free pass but he has $3000 in ticket fines. How is he supposed to work and pay his fines without transportation? He is the newest member of our foundation so eventually I will help him pay the fines and he will pay me back from his paycheck. He doesn’t live near public transportation so for now he has to use ride share services which are expensive and not a long term solution. There will be more things that he will need as time goes on, and I will just have to do what I can to help him.
I have another employee with a brand new baby and his house on the west side is infested with mold. He has been to the hospital numerous times with the baby but once he leaves the house the baby gets better, he just has these horrible attacks and cannot breathe when he is at home. He has been trying to move for months and cannot find a place that will rent to him. He is a felon, and although landlords can no longer discriminate against felons, they can find other reasons not to rent to them. When you join a gang at a young age and when you live in an area that has a high poverty rate, credit means little to you. It is not until it is too late that most people in this area understand how important credit is. Now he is working a full time, steady job and he cannot rent an apartment because his credit is not great and he is a felon. I believe in paying my employees a living wage of $17 an hour to start but that is still not much money to support a family on. The rent in this area is so high so if you don’t have a good credit score, cannot afford more than $1000 a month and you are a felon then you might as well live in a mold infested apartment. This creates other problems such as late and sick days because the baby is sick, stress on my employee and other issues. I am understanding of his situation, if I were not, he would’ve been fired and right back where he started. I am working with him to improve his credit and see if there is something I can do so that he can find a new place to live.
And finally, I have an employee that has worked with me the longest. He has been out of jail for the longest amount of time and he has been the most successful out of all of my ex offender hires. He is working to be completely independent, he has a car, he has two children who he takes care of and he has spent a lot of time figuring out how to be a good employee. The only problem is he lives in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. Since he has started working for me I have heard of numerous shootings that have occurred right in front of his house. His son is scared and he knows he has to move. For months he has been trying to find a place to live, his credit score is just okay but he is felon and has several felonies. No matter what, nobody wants to take a chance with him. I am helping him to put down several months rent as a security and am co-signing on an apartment for him because he has to move. Since he is one of the ones that inspired me to start this foundation I have done more for him than for the others, as I was trying to see what would happen if I started to make some things easier for him. I gave him a cell phone, helped him open a bank account, helped him with his taxes this year, helped him get custody of his son, and most of all I was understanding of his challenges and helped him learn to what is expected of an employee. That seems like an easy thing to most of us because we have grown up watching our parents work and started working a job at a young age. What if you didn’t do that? How do you learn? You can be taught at any age, there are just not many people out there willing to teach and be patient with adults. Especially if they have a felony, let alone multiple felonies. It may have taken him a little longer than others to figure out the right way to go about things but why is he not deserving of living a safe life with his family? Especially if he is willing to work just like everyone else?
I founded this organization to help with what is needed to help ex offenders keep a full time job. I realized that helping people find a job is not all that they need, they also need support and help to overcome obstacles that are keeping them from working. I have tried several different ways to define my foundation and I am hoping that with my stories above I can help you to understand the cycle that my participants are in when it comes to trying to change their lives. It is not always as easy as it seems and there needs to be someone there to help them along the way.
My husband and I are doing what we can to help but for now most of the funds come from our construction company and that won’t be able to continue forever. We are in need of help to make a real change, please consider helping to make this change!