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A Different Kind of Prison

A Different Kind of Prison
By Rachel O’Keefe, former Case Management Intern

Most people will agree that finding a job is full of uncertainty, nerves, and fear. Ultimately, looking for a job can reveal insecurities and inadequacies that we’d rather not dwell on. There is the process of creating and updating a resume, followed by searching for jobs online, attending job fairs, making phone calls, etc. Then comes the application part, which can be tedious and very time consuming. After all of that effort, the waiting comes.

Each employer follows up with applicants differently and the wait varies in length based on number of applicants, the amount of time that a job is posted, and urgency with which the employer needs the position filled. After prepping, searching, and applying you may or may not even be contacted, much less get an interview. If one job doesn’t pan out then the process starts over from the beginning.

I say all of this not to make it seem impossible or incredibly daunting, but to provide perspective.

Most, if not all job seekers, experience these steps in some form, but as daunting as the “normal” process can be, it can be a lot worse.  What happens when you don’t have the necessary education or if English is not your first language? How much more time consuming is it if you don’t have a car to take you to and from interviews or your availability is limited because your kids are out of school for the summer?  What happens if you don’t have access to a computer or you have a criminal record?

The uncertainty of the job search instantly becomes intensified.

I never realized how complicated finding jobs could be before interning with Daily Work. Working closely with job seekers has opened my eyes the very real barriers that exist and the strength it takes to persevere in the face of those barriers.

People with legal records face some of the greatest barriers to employment. Research done by the Urban Institute revealed that one of the greatest obstacles for people with legal records is the hiring process itself.

The State of Minnesota passed a criminal background check bill in 2014 that supported the “Ban the Box” Initiative. This policy prevents employers from inquiring about criminal history at the “initial point of contact with the applicant.” This does reduce immediate discrimination but many employers do criminal background checks before hiring potential employees. Essentially, this means that job seekers are able to go through the searching, applying, waiting, and interviewing, and even get provisionally hired, only to be rejected once their hopes are high.

People who have served time have to deal with explaining over and over why they spent months/years out of the workforce. They have to prove to employers and others that they have changed, are moving forward, and have learned from their mistakes. They face incredible barriers meeting basic needs, such as renting an apartment and having adequate food, clothing and emotional support. 

All of these things make the job search process even more crushing and demeaning. Yet, finding work is a crucial element of the reentry process and necessary in order to fully participate as a member of community.

Most importantly, Urban Institute’s research found that participating in reentry programs, finding work with a previous employer, and making a decent wage are important methods of reducing recidivism and preventing people from going back to prison. Continuous research is being done and policy improvements are being made to reduce obstacles for people with legal records, but the obstacles for people today are still daunting, underscoring the need to advocate for policies that make it possible for all people to work and succeed in our communities.

Daily Work tackles these barriers with people by contacting employers, interview coaching, helping people set realistic goals, and celebrating each step forward, no matter how small. It is very important work if justice and equal opportunity within employment are to become a reality. Ban the Box was a great first step towards reducing barriers, but there are lots of other opportunities to assist individuals in their reintegration into our communities.

Finding employment can be scary and full of more rejection than success. Daily Work is able to intervene in those moments and help job seekers stay hopeful and work towards their goals. Sometimes the barriers can seem insurmountable, but I have learned that every step forward helps and every act of kindness matters.

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