Reform Program Unveiled for Former Prisoners
By St. Clair Murraine
Capital Outlook staff
Kevin Gay, founder and CEO of Operation New Hope, used every necessary statistic Tuesday afternoon to demonstrate how important it is to get former prisoners back into the workforce.
His seemingly captivated audience was made up of a Tallahassee cross-section of community leaders, including politicians, law enforcement officers, the representative Chamber of Commerce and even a judge listened attentively.
They appeared even more zoned into to topic when college graduate Robert Foushee brutally described his struggle to find a job just two weeks into his release from serving an eight-year sentence.
Foushee didn’t know that he was attending a presentation to outline Bethel Missionary Baptist Church’s plans for launching program to assist ex-offender with resuming a productive life after serving their time. The program will be operated by Bethel’s Empowerment Foundation in conjunction with Jacksonville-based Operation New Hopes.
Operation New Hope had been using a subsidiary program, Ready4Work for the past 16 years as a human resources arm that connects employees with former prisoners.
Foushee participated in a similar program during his final six months of incarceration at Okaloosa Correctional Facility. He was an unexpected case-in-point when he stood up amid the city’s power brokers in the back of the room at Bethel’s Family Life Center.
“These are the men and women who need to hear the testimony directly as it is,” he said. “I was brutally honest because when you talk about programs and you talk about dollars the first thing that comes to mind is ‘we we don’t have the money; we don’t have the infrastructure for programs.’
“So if you deal with somebody who needs that stuff first-hand, then it gives them a better idea of what they are allocating funds for.”
Gay and the Empowerment Foundation had plenty of proof why the new program is needed in Tallahassee. Gadsden, Jefferson and Wakulla counties also will be served by the program.
Listed among the statistics in a handout is a Forbes Magazine report that named Tallahassee as the eighth most dangerous city in the nation. Leon County has been seeing a steady uptick in the last two years, showing an increase of 5.7 percent, a 3.7 jump from 2010 to 2011.
Studies have shown that there is a correlation between crime and poverty, Gay pointed out. Getting ex-prisoners back to work is a proven way of changing that, he said.
“The reality of it is that it’s a quality of life,” Gay said. “It’s about somebody doing better; they are back with their families and there is a (good) quality of life. Those are the things that we measure.”
Led by Rev. R.B. Holmes, Bethel has been studying the issue for several years. Last fall, he commissioned the Empowerment Foundation to take the lead on laying out a plan. A conversation with Gay’s organization also got underway.
Meanwhile, Holmes an influential community leaders, took to the legislature to lobby for support. He won over Representative Darryl Rouson (D. Pinellas County). He forged $400,000 into the state’s budget for the Tallahassee program. The money is expected to stay intact in the recently approved budget, which is yet to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott.
When that happens, it could take as long as a year before the Ready4Work programs begins, said Lucretia Shaw Collins, who heads up the Foundation’s effort.
“This community is in dire need (because) we have over 1,000 people that have been released from prisons in our four counties in the last year,” Shaw Collins said. “So many of them don’t have a job, so many of them exit the prison system without mental and substance abuse treatment, so many of them don’t have an education.
“We are able to offer them the ability to get a GED, to get a diploma; provide them with the assistance that is really needed. I just know that our community is so primed for this and I’m so glad that I’m a part of it.”