Monday, July 18, 2005

Daniel walks in 10 til 5

Towards the end of the work day, a guy named Daniel walked into the office, and wanted to apply for any open positions we had. To apply for any of our positions, an applicant needs to make an appointment to attend an orientation, and part of my job is talking to some of these people and setting the appointment. Using this screening process, we talk to applicants to ensure some basic requirements could be met: the person can independently travel and work, they are at least 18 years old, the are willing to submit to and pass a drug test, and can pass a criminal background check, which screens out anyone who has had a person-to-person or theft conviction in the past seven years.

I met with Daniel and he jumped right up and shook my hand. He introduced himself, and called me ma’am. I introduced myself, and we started to talk. He wasn’t clear about what kind of place of business we were; I explained this company was a temporary staffing service that specializes in placing someone with a disability, or someone who’s gone through alcohol or drug recovery (recovery is considered a disability). Anyone can apply, but people with a disability get placed in positions first. He thought we provided work experience to recently released convicts and he started to tell me that he was having a real hard time getting a job. While he was talking, he had a hard time looking at me, and he would look all around the table between us. He started by apologizing for being sweaty, and told me that it was hotter then he thought it would be, and he had rode a bicycle across town to apply for work. I think today was the hottest day of the year so far, so far, a stifling 95 degrees. I didn’t even notice that he was sweaty, and told him it was no problem, I couldn’t tell.

Daniel looked like he put great care into his appearance: He was wearing heavier pressed khaki pants, nice clean black work boots, a black button-down long sleeve shirt, and was wearing a clean (but strange, because he's never worked there) UPS hat, and had three different man rings on: a silver knot design, a silver skull head, and a different silver skull with a dagger in its mouth and a snake through its eye sockets. His hair was long, thick and curly, and hung to the middle of his back. He wore a trimmed beard, with 5 o’clock shadow on his cheeks. He had some tattoos that weren’t clearly visible on his neck, and wore a couple of earrings in each ear.

While I was making these observations, Daniel was telling me his story, and how he ended up at the office. He was nervous, and apologized for being short with the receptionist (I don’t think she even noticed). He told me he had been in prison since 1987, and this is the longest he’s been out of prison (seven months). He was having a hard time getting a job, because he didn’t really have work history; he just has a prison record. He said he had to quit his last job because he got it through his friend’s dad, and he was getting paid under the table. Daniel’s parole officer had a problem with that, and told Daniel he had to be legit. Daniel said the job before that, he had to quit because he was an addict and was getting loaded on the job. So he started going to NA meetings and his counselor recommended he quit that job. He heard from a friend of his that our company could help him, so he got himself together, hopped on his bike, and rode across town.

After talking with Daniel for a while, I inquired about his addiction problem and criminal background. I found out that he is eligible for the hiring preference with his recovery situation, and ineligible for employment because of a burglary charge in 2002. I explained this to him, and he seemed really let down. I thought I sort of saw his eyes water up. I wish we could have hired him.

I didn’t want to send Daniel away despondent and shot down, so I started talking to him about how his employment search was going and asked him what resources he’s tapped into to help him. It turns out he hasn’t done too much and had to leave the paid under the table job last week, so he’s just started. He said he had been out all day and can tell employers aren't interested in hiring him. He told me that he wanted to be up front and honest about his background to the people he applied with, and instead, he and his situation turned people off. He identified that he had a problem making eye contact with people, no resume, no work history, and was riding a bike around town. He told me that he was having a hard time being free, and felt much more comfortable and accepted in prison.

I’ve talked to many people that were in prison, and the way I understand it, while you are in there you have opportunities to learn and do something, and are required to do a certain amount of work, which equates to skills and experience that would be needed to do jobs inside and outside of prison. I started asking him about things he did while he was in prison, and in addition to meal and menu planning for a couple hundred men, he learned auto body repair and had to perform various janitorial duties, including floor waxing. I explained to him that this is experience he can use to pursue employment.

I got Daniel some resources, and wrote a few names and numbers down on sticky notes for him to follow up on. One if for his local One-Stop, a federally funded program to help people get to work with resume and interviewing classes, basic computer classes and self-paced tutorials, job searching, use of fax machines, phones, message mailboxes, and people to refer you to other things you may need like utility assistance, food stamps, rental assistance, etc. I also gave him a info for a non-profit organization that helps people individually find jobs, and information about an organization that helps people with criminal backgrounds find and retain employment. I told him that he has different recovery options, and the degrees of support they can provide for people (and gave him a few names and numbers there, too). He thanked me, and that was the end of our meeting. I showed him out (well, to the restroom in the lobby, because he had to use it), and I told him not to get overheated riding back. I was now about 96 and climbing. He told me he was going to take a bus back.

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