BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Former inmates used their Friday afternoon to encourage business owners to take a chance and hire once convicted felons. Their hope is to show people their words aren’t just prison talk.
Michael Germany was incarcerated for 12 years, 8 months, and 17 days. Jason Hughes was in prison from 2006 to 2011.
"I was forced to grow up at a very young age. It was definitely a life lesson that I won’t ever forget,” Hughes said.
From 1993 to 1998, James Abram was incarcerated in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Living life behind bars can either put things in perspective for some or they can stay on that same rocky path.
These three men, Germany, Hughes, and Abram, chose to transform for the future.
“The changes started when I was in,” Germany said.
Abram says most of the time, the only thing former inmates need to change their life is an opportunity.
“Just because you’ve been through something, doesn’t mean we want to be shunned,” Abram said.
A second chance to do the right thing starts with trying to get a job as a convicted felon. It's just as hard as it sounds.
“The door got slammed in my face ten times before I got a ‘yes,’” Germany said.
“It’s trust issues, of course, by the employer,” Abram said. “Coming back into society, it’s like who gives you a chance when you go through something like that?”
But it’s that mindset which allowed Germany, Abram, and Hughes to push through. Abram says he chose not to look at prison as a penal system, but an academic institution. He received his GED and took brick masonry classes during his time behind bars. Germany, a former drug trafficker, rose in the ranks at Capitol City Produce and is now a shift manager of daily operations.
“My director of operations noticed my work ethic and my determination. I got a chance at another promotion,” Germany explained.
Abram, convicted of armed robbery, now up-fits law enforcement vehicles through his business, Safety Solutions, llc. Hughes also started a business, Capital City Collision, which hires convicted felons.
"I believe that every man and woman deserves a second chance,” he said.
Former prisoners need to meet opportunities, not obstacles, when they get out, advocates say.
Shon Hopwood was breaking the law before he became a criminal justice advocate. In 1998, Hopwood was sentenced to 12 years and three months in federal prison. He was released in 2008 after serving nearly the entire sentence. Hopwood found a love for law in prison and now he’s helping former inmates like himself. He’s pushing business owners to give others a break.
“It’s in everybody’s best interest to give people coming out a second chance. It makes our communities safer. It changes lives. It also turns out that employees who are formally incarcerated are really hard workers.”
Leaders from Turner Industries are help leading the charge. Michelle Hardy, director of community relations for Turner Industries, says for the past ten years, they have been reaching out to area prisons for employees.
“The best thing to do is to educate not only the construction industry, but entire business industry in the Baton Rouge area that we need to support these people and mentor them,” Hardy said. “That way, they come out successful."
Shelly Dick is the chief judge for the Middle District of Louisiana. She says she tells men on a regular basis to look forward and not back; she hopes to encourage business owners to have the same outlook.
“I tell men in my re-entry court this: your background is just that. It’s in the back and it’s on their ground. Look forward, move forward one step at a time," she said.