Career Center Workshop Can Help Felons Find Jobs

Career Center Workshop Can Help Felons Find Jobs

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Ferndale 115 News, 10/5/2011)

“Once you check that box, it doesn’t matter how long it’s been.”  The biggest fear of many with a criminal record is that once they admit having been convicted of a crime they are automatically over-looked as potential employees.  “I’ve been free for twenty years, and I’ve done my best to be a good citizen.  I coach sports.  I have a family.  I work hard.  But it doesn’t matter.  If there is a stack of people to choose from, why pick someone with a record?”  The gentleman who spoke at the Ferndale Career Center “Assisting the Ex-Offender” workshop is one of thousands of Michigan residents struggling to find work in a world that doesn’t look kindly on people with a past.  Because of privacy concerns he didn’t want to give his name, but he did want people to realize that there is a struggle for those who are trying to do the right things after they have served their time.

The Assisting the Ex Offender workshop of Oct 4, 2011 was not only a place for ex-offenders to share their challenges, but also for individuals and case managers to learn and share resources to help ex-cons find work.  The Career Center holds two classes on the subject – one geared towards employment counselors and potential employers, and another which will be Oct 18 designed to help the returning individuals.

The workshops are led by Andrew Valle, a former Matrix program caseworker and current Chaplain at the Wayne County Jail.  Using the connections and knowledge gained though his Matrix position, Valle currently spends his time assisting those he meets in the prison system get connected with the resources they need to help them transition into being productive members of society.

Caseworkers through Michigan Works and other agencies are tasked with helping felons find jobs, and Valle knows ways to make this happen.  “You need to make sure the individual is ready.  You can’t just send them off to a potential job without teaching them how to get that job.  “There is a lot of isolation in prison, and it makes them hard to re-connect with people,” Valle said.  He advised walking returning citizens through mock interviews, and getting them comfortable talking about their past.

“Train them to accept responsibility and admit what they did.  Get them to talk about how they grew from the experience,” he said.  “A lot of times when returning citizens interview they will give excuses or only accept partial blame.  But we have to acknowledge the past, while remembering that everyone has a future.”

Another way to help cons give a good impression is to make sure their resume positively reflects the experiences they had while incarcerated.  Training programs, certificates earned, and work performed are all relevant in showcasing what the potential employee brings to the table.

Valle said that re-branding of an individual’s image after a conviction can be hard, but there are many things one can do to shape their future.  “Don’t wait until you get out to start. If you have a loved one in the prison system start getting their image repaired now.”

The first step is for returning citizens to gather their vital records, including birth certificate, social security cards, credit report, school transcripts and driving record.  Making sure that all of these are available and accurate can prevent misunderstandings later.

There are other tools available that can help clean up one’s reputation.  One little-known option is expungement of one’s record. For people who have only one conviction for a non-violent crime, it can be expunged from their record after five years.  The Wayne County website has a link on their homepage to help people do this. For those in any Michigan county, there is information at

Another tool is the ability for felons to obtain insurance that they can give to employers to protect them against any potential wrong-doing by the new employee.  There are also tax credits to employers that hire returning citizens.

Child support forgiveness is another option that those who are incarcerated or released can use to help them get a fresh start.  “If child support is going to take all of your money, what is the incentive to work?” Valle said.  The program requires individuals to make reasonable payments on their debt for two years before the balance of what is owed to the State is forgiven.

Organizations such as Michigan Works have the resources to connect job-seekers with felon-friendly employers and programs to help them gain stability.  Some larger employers and temporary service agencies are known for hiring formerly incarcerated individuals.  Valle listed the following as potential employers: Goodwill Industries, Grand Rapids Building Services (which also has an office in Southfield), Phoenix Personnel, Blue Star Construction, Employment Plus, Minute Men Staffing, K Mart, Walmart and Olive Garden.  He also said that Kelly Services will consider those with a criminal record over seven years old.

Michigan Works and the Ferndale Career Center offer resources for returning citizens and anyone else who wants to learn more about improving their workplace positioning.  They also can work with businesses that are seeking employees.  Services include: personal career advisors, a job developer who matches job seekers to specific, often private job opportunities, a youth program and a complete resource room for job seekers.  The Ferndale Career Center is a MI Works! Agency, proud to be a part of the Ferndale Public School District.

The next The Assisting the Ex Offender workshop will be held Oct. 18, 2011 at the Ferndale Career Center (713 E. Nine Mile Rd).  This class will be geared towards helping those who are seeking work.  There is no cost, but  registration is required.  For more information go to and



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