Volunteers helping felons re-enter workforce

By Donna McCollum - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES (KTRE) -Leaving the walls of a state penitentiary is often as daunting as it is going in. Parolees are met by rejection. No one wants to hire a convicted felon. "And they (employers) would tear the application up in front of them and try to hire them for less than minimum wage," Cottrell McGowan, a volunteer said.

Last stop is usually behind bars. "And that's usually very disheartening because they really wanted to change," Tara Triana, a special projects coordinator who has served in several levels of law enforcement said. "They just got out of prison and they can't get started back on their feet properly."

"About 75-80% of the people we deal with offend once they're released," Sheriff Thomas Kerss shared.

The cycle can be broken. Mcgowan has seen it happen in New Orleans where he wrote and successfully ran a volunteer re entry mentoring program. It begins with educating employers. "We are going to introduce some kind of tax break for them," explained McGowan,who has the support of local legislators.

No job is guaranteed. Mentors make sure parolees become dedicated employees. "Make sure he's on time. Make sure he's done what he's supposed to have done and the employer don't have that problem any more," McGowan explained.

"Having been working in that field for about 15 years, I believe I can make a difference," Billy Mayfield, a confident mentor said.

"We've all been certified thru the adult probation department and also TDCJ, thru them to be a liaison between the businesses in the community," commissioner Reggie Cotton said.

To get things started a $1,000 check in drug forfeiture money will help. The rest will rely on business, mentors and most of all those coming outside the wall.

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