"There are no second acts in American lives." So goes the oft-repeated quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald. Of course, it's usually followed by examples of some of the countless Americans who have since proved the writer wrong, from Richard Nixon to Madonna to Hillary Clinton.
But for one group of Americans -- the millions who have served time in prison -- a second act is significantly more elusive than it is for those without criminal backgrounds. People who have served time behind bars often find that getting their lives back on track can be even more challenging than the time spent in prison. And the most significant aspect of getting back on track -- finding a job -- can seem next to impossible. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2008, up to 60 percent of people with criminal backgrounds were still unemployed a full year after being released from prison, which is one reason why more than half of these people end up back in prison within three years of leaving.
And this is why one of the best parts of my job is getting to meet people who have proven Fitzgerald and everyone else wrong -- people like DeWarren Carter.
DeWarren was incarcerated in 2004. As he prepared for release from a minimum-security prison four years later, he heard fellow inmates talking about Project Re-entry at Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina. The program works with people who have criminal backgrounds to help smooth their reintegration back into the community, starting from before they're released and continuing until after they have found employment. Already worried about how he would get by after leaving prison, DeWarren jumped at the chance to join the program. Through Project Re-entry, he quickly learned basic skills like how to budget his time and money and how to present himself to employers. He also learned a range of job-specific skills, from writing to carpentry, and even dog training. The latter was the one that stuck.
Once he was released from prison, Project Re-entry helped DeWarren with transportation, clothing and other basic needs while he completed Veterinary Assistant training at a local community college. Two years later, DeWarren landed both a full-time job at a local Humane Society as well as a part-time job. He works 50 hours a week and has been able to rent an apartment and buy a car.
"My life has turned around," DeWarren says. "I would label my life 'convicted to committed.' I've made a commitment to do right. I have duties and responsibilities now. I want to build up my future instead of tear it down."
At Goodwill, we get to see second acts like DeWarren's happen all the time. Recognizing the many barriers to successful reintegration facing people who have been incarcerated, Goodwill provides services that will help them get their lives back on track, from basic skills development to occupational training and job placement assistance. In 2009, more than 155,000 people in the United States and Canada obtained meaningful employment as a result of Goodwill career service programs. Collectively, these employees earned $2.5 billion in salaries and wages and contributed to their communities as productive, tax-paying citizens.
But don't take my word for it. Listen to DeWarren tell his story and show your support by leaving him a quick comment.
There are many more stories like DeWarren's, of people who have reclaimed their lives by taking advantage of Goodwill's programs that help youth, seniors, veterans, immigrants, people with disabilities, those with criminal backgrounds, and many others who need employment assistance. You can hear a new story in their words every week on Goodwill's My Story podcast, also available for free through iTunes.
Second acts in American lives aren't just for celebrities and politicians. At Goodwill, we strongly believe that every person with a criminal background should have the opportunity to go from convicted to committed. If you know someone who needs a second chance, contact the Goodwill in your community and ask for an employment specialist.
Follow Jim Gibbons on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@jdgibbons