Pictured from right to left: Johnmark Oudersluys, Executive Director of CityLink Center, Rev. Noel Julnes-Dehner, Filmaker of ‘The Right Track’, Matt Joyce, Director of Strategic Partnerships for CEO, Grant Doepel, 4/7 Ministries, Felicia Johnson, CityLink Client and Nehemiah Manufacturing Employee, Michael Taylor, Operations Director for Nehemiah Manufacturing
CityLink recently hosted its first CityLink Conversation around the topic of returning citizens and recidivism. A common theme of the discussion revolved around the significant challenges and barriers people face in finding employment. And a lack of employment is often one of the biggest drivers behind recidivism, compromising the potential success for those reentering society.
The discussion was led by experts from local and national community organizations that tackle the issue of recidisvm, second chance employment and other resources geared at supporting one of our most vulnerable populations. Panel members included Michael Taylor, Operations Manager from Nehemiah Manufacturing, Matt Joyce, Director of Strategic Partnerships from Center of Employment Opportunities (CEO), Grant Doepel Co-Founder of 4/7 Ministries, and CityLink and Nehemiah Manufacturing employee, client Felica Johnson.
The audience viewed “The Right Track” a documentary written and produced by Cincinnati native Reverend Noel Julnes – Dehner. Panelists and audience members shared about the effects of incarceration on families, mental health, the cycle of drugs and poverty, and second chance employment opportunities.
Emotions were raw as panel members spoke not only about barriers citizens face when leaving prison, but each recounted their own stories of triumph over early struggles and how they are extending their second chance to others. Johnson spoke of her time in jail and how she felt labeled by society:
“When you come out of those doors you have to start over and if your story is anything like mine where you have burned all your bridges with your family because of the choices you have made and the hurt you put on them and you have nowhere to go, you find yourself back in the same environment that you know because that’s the only way you know how to survive……Everybody who surrounds me now are God fearing people and that’s what got me here today, I know without God I wouldn’t be sitting here today.” – Felicia Johnson
Being judged by his past, Michael Taylor found himself being rejected at every turn. With no one willing to give him a chance, Michael’s perseverance and his desire to flourish beyond his mistakes grew with each obstacle:
“There was so many times I was really close to going back to the drugs and the lifestyle because that’s the only place I felt like I belonged because of my past indiscretions, and that’s when I found Nehemiah. I came to Nehemiah, I walked in the door and the owner was standing there and he shook my hand and said welcome. That gave my hope and it changed my life right then and there. I remember telling him that I was going to work hard and not lose my job, I’ll come in and work my butt off and do whatever they ask me too. I would have done anything because I didn’t have to lie, I was comfortable there. Working at Nehemiah I gained 7 promotions and became Operations Manager.” – Michael Taylor
Prisoners often attend church to renew faith, cope with the struggles of prison life, and begin on a positive life altering journey of redemption and forgiveness. When speaking about prison ministries and the need to invent something new to help combat recidivism, Grant Dopel talks of his involvement with other ministries and how he and his wife founded 4/7 Ministries.
“4/7 came to be because we saw a different need, there are many wonderful prison ministries that we have been a part of, and when you see the recidivism rate in this country of 49% half of the people who come out of prison go right back. We got to thinking, there are wonderful organization like ours that do good work on the inside, and other wonderful organization that help on the outside…..how do we bridge that gap? That’s what 4/7 became, let’s bring in people from our communities to meet those folks behind bars. That’s bringing in business owners, pastors, people of faith, people not of faith.” – Grant Doepel
Employment opportunities for citizens exiting prison has long been a both a necessity and struggle within local communities. Both Nehemiah Manufacturing and CEO have invested many resources into not only providing employment for those leaving prison, but also forming communities among their employees, creating the positive structured social relationships lacking behind bars. Matt Joyce speaks about CEO’s program structure and how it’s intended to help people gain long term employment through partnership.
“Our work is centered on transitional employment, we work with cities, states, apartments, Habitat for Humanity, a whole lot of people committed to going to the private sector and saying ‘would you be willing to give us work?’ Anything from doing roadside maintenance, construction, and basic labor. We work with people as they are coming out of prison, ideally within the first couple of weeks of them coming out. Its this idea that when you’re coming out of prison and you have an employer there saying I’ve got a job for you. People are getting paid everyday and it’s something they can take home to their family and know they are contributing. This makes a huge difference.” – Matt Joyce
CityLink is committed to partnerships that allow us to team with these awesome local organizations, with their expertise and our resources can effectively address this critical issue within our community and provide equal opportunity for all. The Center for Employment Opportunities will launch here in Cincinnati on April 14th.