A felon's misery in the job search

Inmates behind the gates at the Dougherty County Jail. / Jessica Fairley

A stint behind bars can turn out to be a life sentence for those who are later released.

Ezell Harris, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, says when he went to discipline his step-son back in 2006, he had no idea the punishment would land him behind bars.

"One day is too long, one minute is too long. Any time that's taking away from your freedom is too long," says Harris.

After being released four days later, Harris says that's when the true punishment began. He says a felony is something that employers can't overlook.

"Once they know that you're a convicted felon, they don't want to hear the story. They don't want to know the circumstances. They don't want to know the situation. Once they see it on your application, your resume, it goes in the garbage," says Ezell Harris.

Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards says unfortunately this is something many who exit the jail system face.

"The vast majority of people in the jail system are high school dropouts so getting their GED for instance is a first step," says Edwards.

The Dougherty County Jail has an agreement with Albany Technical College to provide classes so that inmates have the opportunity to gain education. But once they exit the system, Edwards say they have to make decisions that will better their chances of finding employment.

Harris says he's taken that first step, then the second by getting trained as a commercial driver but he hasn't found work in that field.

"You're constantly looking for jobs that you know you're qualified to do but you have that one mistake that you made in your life and you constantly pay for it," says Harris.

Job specialists with Manpower, a job placement agency, often have people with criminal records come in for employment and they say the only way to help someone is if they stay truthful about their past.

"Some people make mistakes and we want to make sure that they can get in no matter what they've done in the past. We want to make sure that they get a job and that they are the right person for the job," says Amanda King, a Staffing Specialist for Manpower.

Edwards says businesses in the community have to work with the jail system to make job recovery a success story for former inmates.

"The best thing to do is to match up the business or the workplace with the offender and give some incentives to the business to hire them and work with them if they got a bit of a record," says Edwards.

He says the community has to stress that the situation is not hopeless. Harris, who now washes cars for a living, says at one point in time, he thought it was hopeless.

"I'm just getting to the point where I can talk about this openly because I was embarrassed by it but I feel that I have to come out of that shell and speak and maybe I can help somebody else," says Harris.

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