After earning his GED relatively quickly, considering he was a 10th-grade drop-out from the streets of Dallas, “Roc,” a 26-year-old twice-convicted drug dealer with two young children, was ready for me to suggest college.
At first he laughed me off because, in his opinion, “a GED was nothin’.” But I showed him the process for obtaining full student aid after obtaining the GED and gave him some community college course manuals we had in the library. I told him to look through them to see if there was a career he would be interested in getting into. Before long he was back, having selected petroleum technician, which he had heard was a good job to have in Dallas. According to the requirements shown in the catalog, a petroleum technician credential would take him two to three years to complete, starting with college prep courses and early required classes that he could take in prison with the help of inmate tutors.
Roc next asked how the process would be paid for and how long it would take, and he questioned whether any oil company would hire a drug dealer with a long record and no work history. He felt it was ridiculous to expect the government to pay for him to go to school for three years and to expect a large employer to hire him, even if he did get a degree. His comment was, “The Man never did anything good for me and my folk before. Why are they goin’ to start now? Ridiculous!” I asked him to complete the student aid application before giving up and to keep an open mind about the program if he got the student aid. He completed the application for the student aid and applied to the prison staff for early release to a halfway house in Dallas to spend his last year going to school and trying to work for an oil company part-time. Once he was accepted for student aid he began to see that this whole “ridiculous plan” might just be doable.
Then I was transferred to another institution and was not allowed to maintain contact with Roc. I do not know if he continued with the plan or not. What I learned from him early on in this endeavor, and heard over and over again, was the inmates' suspicion that any large, respectable employer would even consider hiring felons. What I also learned was that these men want to provide well for their families and know that it takes a respectable, hard-working career to do that. I learned that they are hard workers, dedicated to whatever they are doing. The issue should not be their background. It is in the past, and they have paid with years of hard confinement to leave it there. They are all entitled to a fresh start. The issue is whether employers will look on their two- to three-year record of good behavior, solid work ethic, and hard-earned credentials as sufficient reason to trust them as new hires. If large employers in the areas of inmate return are willing to commit to providing employment opportunities, assuming that the necessary credentials have been earned, then inmates will have something real to strive for during their years of educational catch-up.
There are many reasons for large employers to hire felons who have proven their commitment to an occupation by dedicating two to three years of study to it: