In 2008, The Pew Center on the States found that more than 1 in 100 adults in the United States were incarcerated. Of those adults, more than half will return to prison within three years of leaving. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has found that up to 60 percent of people with criminal backgrounds are not employed a year after being released. This fact is not hard to believe given the stigma that comes from involvement with the justice system, but the DOJ also found that in 1997, 26.5 percent of people in federal prisons and 39.7 percent of people in state prisons did not have high school diplomas.
Recently, we heard from one of our case managers at Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids about Charles Plummer, a man who lived in this cycle of release and re-incarceration but eventually found a way to change his life for the better.
Charles was enrolled in the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative Program when his parole officer suggested that he visit Goodwill. After some initial hesitation, Charles completed the Goodwill's Better Life Initiative class and received a certificate in May 2009. He then completed three months of temporary work at the Goodwill's recycling center.
When Charles completed his work at the recycling center, he interviewed for a dishwashing position and landed the job. It didn't take long for his supervisor to realize he had a good worker on his hands, and, just eight months after he started, Charles became the trainer for new dishwashers. He also has the opportunity to learn food prep skills. With his success, Charles was able to buy a car, but his professional life is not the only area that is looking up; Charles is also attending marriage counseling in preparation for his upcoming wedding.
Charles' story is inspirational and impresses upon me the power of work. Where the majority of people who have criminal histories are not able to break out of the cycle of criminal involvement, Charles had the strength to find a place for himself in the workforce and is thriving.
With the challenges stacked against people with criminal backgrounds, Goodwill's work and the work of programs like the Michigan Reentry Initiative is even more important; we need to level the playing field and allow people with criminal backgrounds to live fulfilling lives.