Roughly Speaking Dan Rodricks: Commentary and conversation on life in Baltimore, Maryland and the USA

Rodricks: Looking for work, not more trouble

I like what I heard Tuesday afternoon from Bryant Hairston — that he’s determined not to return to his old ways. “I don’t use drugs and I’m not gonna sell drugs,” he told me. “I’m here for my family now. I’m not going to jump back in that lane again.”

Hairston, 28, is one of 75 men and women who contacted me over the last two weeks to get job leads or information about Baltimore-based programs that help ex-offenders adjust and find work as they return home from prison. The more successful they are, the less likely they are to commit more crimes and contribute to Baltimore’s woes.

Hairston left the state prison in Hagerstown just a few weeks ago, having spent two years and nine months there for a drug conviction.

He says he’s eager to find work in or near Baltimore so he can support his wife and two children, a 5-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter. The family lives with Hairston’s mother on Baltimore’s west side.

You can hear regret in the man’s voice when, of his time in prison, he says, “My family needed me and I wasn’t there for them.”

To keep that from happening again, he’s been going to the local library branch to fill out online applications for fast-food and warehouse jobs. The man seems earnest, and you have to appreciate his self-awareness: “If I don’t find a job, I just end up always doing something wrong, trying to make money on the street.”

If you’re an employer willing to meet Hairston and consider him for a job, I can put you in touch with him. The number at my desk in the Sun newsroom is 410-332-6166.

Here are some other prospects:

Dana Brown, 33, lives in West Baltimore. He says his record includes drug offenses and a gun possession charge that, in a plea deal, resulted in his name being placed on Baltimore’s gun offender registry. Brown is looking for almost any kind of steady work after having taken a series of temporary jobs with staffing agencies.

Oscar Bennett, 60, has found jobs, despite a criminal record that includes a federal drug conviction, but he thinks employers are nonetheless biased. “A lot of them look at all that, and they they think that, if you have a record, you are uneducated,” he says. Bennett wanted a job as a line cook, but ended up as a $9-an-hour dishwasher instead. “That’s not enough to pay my bills,” he says. So he’s looking for a second job or a better one. He was last in prison 10 years ago. He lives in West Baltimore and has worked in a hotel and a country club.

I told Tayvon Myers that I would identify him in this space as a guy looking for work, on one condition — this time, he has to show up. If an employer takes a chance on you again, Tayvon, I said, don’t mess up.

Myers says he lost his last job with a home improvement company because of an attendance problem. (He also says a customer complained about his use of a microwave oven to heat up his lunch while on the job. But missing work sounds like the real issue.)

Myers says the attendance problem related to the fact that, at 31 years old, he still doesn’t have a car and has to rely on a bus to get to a work site. I’ve heard that one before, and it’s a real problem for a lot of people who live in Baltimore and need to reach jobs in the suburbs.

When you have a criminal record, as Myers does, finding and keeping a job is complicated enough without a bad post-incarceration work history. “I’m trying to find a job again,” he says, and I suggested looking for one closer to his home in East Baltimore until he can afford a car. Myers sounds earnest, so I included him in today’s list of guys looking for work.

Women with criminal records are looking for employment, too, and a few of them have called me. I referred them to nonprofit programs that help women with re-entry, and some will be highlighted in future columns.

Craig Fellows, 69, is one of the “Unger inmates,” the group of convicted murderers who were released after decades in prison following a 2013 ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals — the Unger decision — that trial judges had given flawed instructions to juries. Fellows served 44 years for his crime.

At some point in his re-entry, he discovered that the Social Security Administration would not pay him benefits. Having received a life sentence for murder when he was 21, Fellows had not worked sufficient hours to be eligible for Social Security. That’s why he’s looking for a job now — custodial, cleaning, warehouse work, or anything close to those areas — so he can meet requirements for a modest retirement.

drodricks@baltsun.com

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