Friday, June 29, 2012

TOP STORY >> Lonoke job fair for felons offers fresh start

Leader staff writer

One hundred and thirty-three people lined up for information on how to reset their lives at the first Lonoke County Re-entry Job and Resource Fair for convicted felons Wednesday at the Lonoke Community Center.

Jim Terry has spent the past year looking for a job. His was convicted for illegal possession of a firearm. He is now on parole.

Terry said his parole officer told him about the event and he came “so I can better my life and do better things. I’ve been out of trouble.”

Parole officers and probation officers granted some of the participants time toward their court-ordered community service hours or a break on monthly fees (not fines) for attending the fair.

Terry wants to stick to the straight and narrow. It’s not easy with the possibility of rejection around every corner.

“Mainly, I’ve gotten the runaround. ‘I’ll give you a call.’ Never hear back from them. Background check,” Terry said.

He said he is looking for construction jobs, or anything else he can do to make an honest living.

Terry said Life After Prison Ministries, one of the vendors, has helped him achieve those goals through counseling services.

Steve Bailey was convicted of threatening a man with a gun. Bailey said he had a concealed gun license and is innocent, but ran into “legal issues.”

He is attempting to have his record expunged.

“Once these people get you into their system...I see murderers and pedophiles walk away. (Searching for a job), it’s been a headache. Right now, I say this to all black men: racism is alive and well and women are still not getting their fair due,” Bailey said.

Bailey recently transferred from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to Arkansas State University at Beebe, where he’s taking classes he hopes will help him attain his dreams.

Those dreams are to work on cleaning up natural and environmental disasters.

Bailey said he was “not aware at all” of the opportunities touted at the job fair.

The Central Arkansas Planning and Development District and Arkansas Work-force Centers organized the event.

“They won’t see any doors closed in their faces here. It’s very necessary. This is a way of addressing the need of these individuals that have found reintegrating very difficult. This may open doors slightly and (employers) could realize these people are OK. Maybe other employers will read about it,” said Damian McNeal with the state Department of Community Corrections.

Shane Willbanks with Life After Prison Ministries explained that convicted felons experience a lot of losses, including “freedom” and “dignity” that can drive them back into lives of crime.

The vendors included:

– Lewis-Burnett Employment Finders;

– Associated General Con-tractors;

– Manpower;

– Arkansas Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Con-tractors Association;

– Goodwill;


– Pulaski Technical College;

–  ASU-Beebe;

– Phillips Community College;

– Arkansas Adult Education;

– Arkansas Department of Career Education;

– Arkansas Office of Child Support Enforcement;

– Arkansas Department of Human Services;

– Central Arkansas Development Council;

– National Foundation for Credit Counseling;

– Arkansas Access to Recovery;

– Focus Education Alcohol/Chemical Treatment Series;

– Family Service Agency;

– and New Hearts Ministries of Arkansas.