GOOD NEWS

Former Inmates Recovering From Addiction Get New Start At Temp Agency

“It’s very basic but it’s about dignity.”

The work of this temp agency has lasting effects. 

MaineWorks finds temporary jobs for ex-inmates recovering from addiction, provides them with a ride to work and sets them up with housing. Founded in 2011 and based in Portland, Maine, the business currently employs 60 to 70 formerly incarcerated people.

Margo Walsh, the company’s founder, told The Huffington Post that the agency’s goal is to help the employees transition back into society by giving them “a sense of purpose and belonging.”

“Jail or prison is not rehab. Anyone who’s coming out is subject ― just like any addict ― to slipping back. ... So MaineWorks is like a safe haven,” Walsh, who struggled with alcoholism in the past, told HuffPost.   

Starting over for someone who’s a former addict is no easy feat, nor is it simple for those who have been incarcerated. Many of the MaineWorks employees grapple with both situations.

About 40 to 60 percent of individuals with substance abuse disorders who get treatment relapse within one year, The Journal of the American Medical Association notes. 

Add to that, about 68 percent of released prisoners get arrested for a new crime within three years, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Within five years of release, that number is even higher, at about 76.6 percent.

Walsh and those at MaineWorks recognize the inherent difficulties in this transition and hope to help get employees back on their feet.

She explained that counselors from corrections facilities contact MaineWorks with recommendations for inmates who’d be a good fit for the agency. People can also apply to MaineWorks on their own. The agency usually helps workers find spots in landscaping or construction. After six months with the agency, the workers tend to move on to permanent positions.

As for housing, MaineWorks has relationships with different sober living facilities where workers battling addiction can live.

Walsh also stresses the importance providing the employees with a ride to work. She and a few others are involved in getting them where they need to go. Through that process, valuable connections and friendships are built ― among staffers and workers alike.   

“That’s actually integral in the model ... because that’s where you get to know what peoples’ struggles are, what their opportunities are,” Walsh said. “That car ride is a very sacred part of the business.”

She adds: “Many guys get a ride to work and they all get to know each other. Their circumstances are not necessarily the same but the trauma and the urgency to get their life organized ― they have that in common.” 

The founder says that she helps the workers beyond employment, often using money from her own pocket to cover additional expenses. After she learned that one man needed a pair of new glasses but couldn’t afford them, she stepped up to help him get them. When a woman needed dentures, and Walsh made sure she got some.

Ultimately her business is about understanding, Walsh summed up for HuffPost.

“It’s changing lives,” she said. “It’s very basic but it’s about dignity.”  

CONVERSATIONS