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Job Interviews as a Former Inmate

Non Violent Inmates

Many prisons and jails do not prepare ex-inmates to return to the outside world. In order for a returning citizen not to become another statistic in our recidivism rate, he or she will need a job. The majority of prisons, jails, and even local re-entry programs do not provide the former inmate the basic skills for finding employment including how to interview for a job. From my personal prison experience, another inmate, a successful businessman, and I had prepared a basic re-entry job program for inmates at our pre-release center which included, “How to interview for a job.” Although the program and its written material received excellent feedback from the prison administration, it died a slow administrative death. The program was never approved, despite a number of young inmates eagerly signing up for it.

A job interview is stressful under even normal circumstances. If the job interviewee is a former inmate, the pressure increases a hundredfold.

In order to give the returning citizen, the means to achieve a successful job interview, our proposed program reviewed the usual issues such as dress, posture, job application and other crucial elements of a job interview. We did not avoid the elephant in the room. The job applicant has a criminal record. The former inmate cannot avoid facing the facts of the past. It is important for the returning citizen to make clear he or she has regretted and taken responsibility for any  past actions. However, the applicant can point to a good prison record, certificates for successful education programs, and a good job record during imprisonment. It can only help that a returning citizen has supervised a kitchen staff or custodial crew for five years.

In other words, the former inmate (now a returning citizen) should accept the lemons and make lemonade. It does not mean that a former inmate will succeed in that particular job interview, but the returning citizen will increase the chances of a successful job interview down the long road of re-entering society.

17 Responses to Job Interviews as a Former Inmate

  1. Tami Tipton-Fletcher November 20, 2014 at 9:15 pm #

    Hello Brad,

    Indeed, I believe that the prison/jail systems often fall short, and not always for lack of trying, in preparing inmates for re-entry into the “outside world,” however once a program fails … we must hope that the information be used to foster growth and new knowledge to move forward towards initiation of a better program course, and not stopping at failure. This is the very essence of the attitude that we teach our ex-offenders to adopt and develop … then how can we simply sit back and accept defeat when initial programs fail? We must have more than just prison administration to back these programs.What about local and state officials? What about support services for funding? What about local social services to assist with capturing support avenues? Local clergy, and non-profits that can assist with contacts with services that actually hire ex-offenders and can emotionally support their needs. It is a hugely diverse set-up utilizing many individuals, not just the teaching tools of how to interview – even though that is an important part of the puzzle. Blessed be.

    In His grace and mercy,

    • PrisonPath November 21, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

      Hi Tami,

      Excellent points. Effective Re-Entry starts in the prison and ends in the local community.


      • Dona December 24, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

        Traditional criminal jutisce case processing is based on the concepts of incapacitation and deterrence with little focus on rehabilitation. With over two decades of punitive ‘get tough’ legislation and ballot measures (such as mandatory minimums, truth-in-sentencing laws, and three-strikes-and-you’re-out laws), rehabilitation is not a priority in our nation’s correctional system. The Oregon Department of Corrections estimates that close to 75% of the 14,000+ inmates have an alcohol/drug problem and nearly 60% of the inmates are substance dependent. However, there are only approximately 274 residential treatment beds for men and only 54 residential treatment beds for women inside four of the fourteen state prisons. Drug courts serve as an alternative to incarceration and allow an offender to bypass prison time if he/she successfully completes the program. The main focus of drug courts is treatment and rehabilitation, unlike prisons, jails, and probation. Clients are not stigmatized with a prison stay or a label of being a convict. Clients are not unwillingly removed from society, are able to maintain some freedom while still being held responsible for their criminal behavior, and are treated with respect from individuals who sincerely want to help. Drug courts focus on changing the underlying problems that cause criminal behavior instead of solely punishing an individual.

  2. PrisonPath December 4, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    Most States have a Restoration of Civil Rights statute. You can additionally apply for a Pardon. Let’s take a look at my State Nevada. Restoration of Civil Rights : You will note the Right to Vote is restored.
    Here is the Pardon Statute in Nevada: NRS 213.090  Pardon: Restoration of civil rights; relieved of disabilities; limitations
    Here is the DOJ on Civil Rights:

  3. PrisonPath December 4, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    As a retired Federal Probation Officer I wholeheartedly agree that an ex-inmate should be able to use his/ her successful prison-job experience as a reference. However, my experience on the federal and state levels is that the penal institutions are very reluctant to release those references to the inmate or even the parole office. Without that written confirmation of the releasee’s achievement, he/she is in a no-win situation.

  4. PrisonPath December 4, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

    MDOC’s prisoner reentry program includes classes in resume writing, applying for jobs, interviewing (to include answering the tough questions), encourages prisoners to use their prison job experience and prison employee references.

  5. PrisonPath December 4, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    Very good article Mr. Schwartz- thank you for posting it.

    I agree with everything said so far in this discussion except for Ms Kern’s suggestion that a majority of the population is forced into a criminal caste. The number is probably closer to 5% of the total population.

    The vast majority of the population are hard-working, law-abiding folks with no criminal history whatsoever.

  6. PrisonPath December 4, 2014 at 8:37 pm #

    Apparently I did not make clear the point that I was talking about the majority of people with a criminal history. They are being forced to metaphorically wear a life long badge of ex-con which places them in a permanent criminal caste. People, who were arrested, convicted and completed their sentence decades ago find it difficult to find employment when employers look them up on the web. The employer does not look to see when the offense happened because they have hundreds of others applying for the same position who have no criminal record.

    Additionally, this population is forced in many states to check yes on applications if they have ever been convicted of a felony. Hopefully the ‘Ban the Box’ movement will continue to be legalized in all states.
    By: Bonnie

  7. PrisonPath December 8, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

    Expungement is seldom achieved, and a pardon does not expunge a person’s criminal history. A pardon simply shows that the governor believes the person has changed their behaviors to the point that the errant is no longer a threat to themselves or others. Their criminal history still shows up. I check ‘yes’ to the box so I am not lying because I did commit the crime, and then put “1963 – overdrawn checks, restoration of citizenship in 1974 and executive pardon in 1982”.

    A simple web search to Iowa Courts Online shows every interaction with the courts, but most employers do not spend the money and time to find out if each case was a felony, misdemeanor, divorce, domestic abuse or child/elder abuse. They may not even know for sure those cases pertain to the resume they are investigating because many people have the same name, but different birthdays and it is illegal to ask a person’s age let alone their birthday.

    I have met several people who have never had any problem with the police, but they have the same name as a person who has committed many crimes that show up on Iowa Courts Online. It is almost impossible for them to get an interview so they can explain to the employer.

    Others have had their identity stolen. Their personal information was used in a crime and they have a horrible time getting their resume even looked at by employers after the employers view their name on Iowa Courts Online.

    And this is just a fundamental search that employers use. Other employers hire companies to do a more complete investigation of people they are considering for employment. It does not seem to matter how long ago the person committed a nonviolent crime or how long they have been a productive taxpaying citizen.

    It is unreasonable for us, as a society, to expect a person to endure everything they must experience being locked up with those who have nothing to lose from harming them in numerous ways because those people already are sentenced to life, and then come out to a culture where they have little hope of finding a job that will provide a living for them and their children. Any of us would revert to criminality if we had to watch our children crying because they must go to sleep hungry again.

    And don’t tell me that you would simply call family or friends to get the money to feed your children. Most of the people we are discussing have a family and friends in the same situation. They do not have the educational, social, familial and financial currency we enjoy.

    If employers really want to know the character of their employees, they should hire people to work with their employees to see how many times their investigator is offered drugs, etc. This is a big problem for those on parole/probation. They are trying to turn their life around and keep getting pulled back into drugs, etc. by those who have not been caught yet.
    Like Reply privately Flag as inappropriate 5 days ago.
    By: Bonnie

  8. PrisonPath December 8, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

    I want to thank you for so openly and honestly expressing your very qualified views on this matter. It has provided me a great deal to consider. Please understand I do not mean any of this sarcastically at all but, I have no intention of debating punishment vs. rehabilitation which I think we have almost set the stage for, instead, please accept my thanks for providing a solution to a question which has tied me up here for years.

    My question was; How is it possible that given excellent and freely available educational resources at all educational levels, top professional educators and mental health workers dedicated to the task, almost unlimited tax payer funding and support, with local, state, and national government resources, charitable and government programs ready to pick up with assistance after release, and with state and national mandates to reduce recidivism and return these offenders to roles that contribute to our society, we are still failing?

    The answer I now think, is really this simple; Because we really don’t want to!

    I now believe that while that mandate may be the stated goal not all within our governmental systems truly believe in that mission or want it to succeed. Now that I see it, I am almost sure many are thinking what took you so long. Instead our correctional systems are forced to go through the “motions” in order to continue to receive funding and keep the wheels turning. This explains so many things I have seen in my 15+ year correctional career as an educator; empty classrooms, a constant stream of “new initiatives” that after years of work and preparation never get deployed, Teaches given impossible tasks like taking a student from grade level 2 to a GED with only a few hours per month to work with them. Vocational career programs with little to no employment opportunity for the student and I am sure much better examples exist outside of my educational perspective. The list could go on and on and all paid for by our tax dollars I might add.

    It was in your concern that; ‘There is a potentially significant downside to erasing the stigma of criminal behavior. I can hear some nefarious folks saying “don’t sweat it- if you get caught commiting a crime, you don’t have to worry about it affecting your future. They banned the box…”‘ I realized that some may want that future affected to the point of failure (I am not suggesting this may be you), and they could be doing all they can to be sure efforts like ban the box do not erase that stigma. If we did they might get a job, a real life, and not return to what ever environment brought them into the system to begin with and actually be rehabilitated through our efforts.

    Thank you so much. I realize none of this is exactly what you were addressing and obviously without knowing that I have been struggling with this question you were not trying to provide any answers but you really made my day!

  9. PrisonPath December 8, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    For me, this was my dilemma in the 1960s:

    I remember a lot of people yelling at me, “You just don’t get it! You just don’t get it!” And they were right, I didn’
    t get it. But they wouldn’t tell me what “it” was or where “it” was so I could get some and they were always mad at me for not having any. I was afraid to ask because I didn’t want to look stupid.

    It was hard for me to stop doing what had helped me survive in a dangerous world of a pedophile and rage toward me from a mother in denial without being shown something better. Maybe the links below will help answer some of the questions:

  10. PrisonPath December 8, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    You asked:
    “My question was; How is it possible that given excellent and freely available educational resources at all educational levels, top professional educators and mental health workers dedicated to the task, almost unlimited tax payer funding and support, with local, state, and national government resources, charitable and government programs ready to pick up with assistance after release, and with state and national mandates to reduce recidivism and return these offenders to roles that contribute to our society, we are still failing?”

    My answer:
    1) What is your criteria for determining success versus failure? In baseball, a .400 hitter will likely make the Hall of Fame; yet he “fails” about half the time. What is the recidivism rate? 60, 70, 80%? That means 20, 30, 40% of offenders SUCCEED at changing their lives around. I think that’s great. We should offer and fund programs to enable this success and improve the pass rate if possible. But at a certain point we need to recognize that one thing harder than hitting a 90mph fastball is changing a hardened criminal into a law-abiding, tax-paying, productive member of society. Oh yeah- and that fastball has to want to be hit- it’s not enough for the batter to really really want it.

    2) Your answer, “Because we really don’t want to” may have some merit. However, If you believe in individual autonomy, perhaps the party in the system who “really don’t want to” change are the offenders. Many offenders I’ve met (and there have been thousands) have come to terms with their criminality, and they simply do not care if their behavior is illegal. There is something wrong with the laws and not them. That’s a valid worldview- but it is not likely to lead to transformative rehabilitation. Ms Kern is a good example of someone who made bad decisions and then changed her life around. She is exceptional- not the norm.

    3) You bring up good points about the system going through the motions. It’s hard to justify increasing jail/prison education funding when John Q Public’s tax dollars are already stretched in the public schools system- and even that funding is under attack. Enlightened minds recognize that if such expendatures reduce recidivism then it is a profitable investment. Unfortunately, the electorate and the politicians they put in power do not always appear so enlightened.

    4) Even given a few hours per month, a motivated individual can achieve a GED if not other great things. Did you ever see The Count of Monte Cristo? Fiction I know, but an instructive story regarding the human spirit.

  11. PrisonPath December 8, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    I have to say so many times inmates came back into the prison or jail I worked for back again for stealing, do drugs or whatever they could to make money to survive back on the street. This is an idea that would really make a huge difference in recidivism rates. It would help if Community Corrections also helped in finding them work, based off their experience. More and more of our Correctional system needs to revolve around actually Correcting behavior.

  12. PrisonPath December 8, 2014 at 7:13 pm #

    Cognitive behavioral therapy worked well on me and many of the people who have also attended the 12-Step meetings that kept me sober for over thirty three years. We started with a skewed world view being raised in whatever jungle we grew up in. Mine was on a farm with a pedophile grandfather and a mother’s rage toward me because I would not shut up about the atrocities when I talked to her. Others grew up ducking from gun shots and running from or joining gangs in urban areas. I have listened to similar stories from people in all socioeconomic striations.

    We may have walked different paths getting here, but the commonalities are overwhelming. Not everyone was caught and sent to prison, but the majority of the people I spoke with in mental wards, jails and prison told me similar stories.

    Every one of us who is able to maintain sobriety for any length of time and not go back to lockup have had our world view changed. We have been taught how to make better choices because the ones that had helped us survive in a dangerous world were no longer working. We were shown that we were worthy of a better life. You see, hope is the one thing that was missing in most of our lives. We had to be shown/taught the step-by-step journey to a productive life because we were taught to just survive growing up. I, for one, had internalized that I was not worthy of a good life, but my mentors patiently guided me to the realization that I did not have to live that lie any more.

    That is what I have seen the Iowa criminal justice system, courts, nonprofits and religious groups doing. They are involving the person in their own planned program so they do not sabotage something else the system is doing to them.

  13. PrisonPath December 8, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    This is the most important area of rehabilitation.Diring my studies in Japan,it was observed,that prison authorities start preparing several months before the actual day of release of a prisoner from jail.the arrangement for his work and abode in society is ready even in case of long term prisoners,the prisoners are kept abreast of physical and technological changes which took place in their absence in the places where they have to resettle .For this purpose the prisoners are given a trip to see the out side world.This all is much conducive to bring down rate of recidivism which is one of the lowest in that country.the constitutionally responsible for rehabilitation and there are no private profit making companies.

  14. PrisonPath December 8, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    With out the proper training on the necessary skill needed to compete in the workforce, ex-offender will get frustrated and revert to their old ways.

    • Bondan December 24, 2014 at 7:59 am #

      Authors Norad and Carlan suggest on page 330 that “drug cotrus seem to be an alternative that satisfies both conservative and positivist factions.” This statement points to key reasons why the drug court model is so effective: it attempts to balance the contributions and concerns of all stakeholders. When individuals struggling with addiction, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, social service personnel, law enforcement, probation & parole officers, treatment providers, and larger community work in collaboration, it seems like common sense that a more holistic, deeper change is bound to occur—both in the addicted clients and the community itself. Of course not all offenders who are offered the opportunity to participate in the drug court treatment model will fully engage and establish abstinence during the program measurement period; however, that does not necessarily mean that their participation is/was wasteful. Since addiction is a chronic, multifaceted health problem, and addicted persons are prone to enroll in treatment many times before lasting abstinence occurs, even the small mental shifts and behavioral steps that drug court inspires may very likely help addicted persons advance on their lifelong journey towards healthier life choices, as well as help reduce criminality and the other related stakeholder concerns. In the end, it seems like progress is always a better option than simply punishing people and putting them away.

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