Have you ever needed a second chance? We all have. And so do justice-involved individuals entering back into society. Unemployment among formerly incarcerated people is five times higher than among the general public. This disparity is especially challenging for people of color and women. The risk of recidivism is reduced when the individual finds gainful employment, which in turn helps strengthen our communities.
“On July 23, 2015, I was released from prison after serving 12 years. After my release, I was living in a halfway house and looking for employment. I was having a heck of a time just finding somebody to employ me. Someone told me, ‘You need to go to Goodwill because I see you’re serious about getting a job.’ So, I took their advice,” said Herman Meeks, Store Manager of the Goodwill store in Shelby.
Meeks has been working for the nonprofit for seven years, and despite his life challenges, he has achieved redemption with Goodwill. He’s been consistently promoted, and today, he serves as an inspiration to new team members looking for a second chance.
“What I love most about working for Goodwill is the camaraderie. Everybody here genuinely believes in the mission, and the mission directly ties right back into me,” Meeks said. “Today, I own my own home; I have two cars; I have plenty of money saved. I’m just blessed beyond measure.”
In April, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont recognizes Second Chance Month, a time to raise awareness of the challenges facing people with justice-involved backgrounds and to spotlight the important work being done by community-based organizations to empower second chance individuals to achieve career and life success.
“I feel people should know about Second Chance Month and about being a second chance employer; what it means to give a second chance to someone who’s been incarcerated who may have made a mistake in their life but they’re looking to turn their life around,” said Meeks.
Marcus Sifford, Store Manager of the Goodwill store in Pineville, echoed Meeks about the importance of Second Chance Month; emphasizing the significance of giving someone rehabilitating back in society “a chance to make a living”.
Sifford is also formerly incarcerated and has been with Goodwill for 13 years. Like Meeks, he’s transparent about his story and hopes it motivates others to apply with second chance employers, like Goodwill, once they’re released.
“I’ve hired a lot of ex-felons, and I tell people my story,” Sifford said. “I also tell them if you know somebody that can’t find a job because of their background, send them to Goodwill and give us a chance to make a change in their life.”
In addition to hiring second chance, Goodwill also partners with The Center for Community Transitions (CCT), an organization that helps justice-involved individuals and their families with employment and reentry services. We help to connect Goodwill participants with justice-involved backgrounds to CCT to take advantage of their specialized supports, and we help to enroll CCT participants into tuition-free job training programs at Goodwill. Together, we help to reduce recidivism by providing people with criminal records and their families tools and resources to rebuild their lives.
In 2022, Goodwill re-examined policies for justice-involved individuals to make sure its practices were supportive and inclusive. The changes allow the nonprofit to hire more justice-involved individuals and make a greater impact in our community.
- The lookback period for violent and sex-related misdemeanors is limited to three years (previously seven years).
- Failure to disclose non-violent and non-sex-related misdemeanor and felony charges will no longer disqualify candidates from employment with Goodwill.
- The Background Check Release form now includes an explanation letter section where candidates who do have violent, sex-related or heinous crimes can provide additional context about the charges along with participation in re-entry programs or other ways they’ve worked to better their lives for additional consideration.
“Each year we partner with area re-entry experts to determine best practices and as a result we are able to offer more second chances to justice-involved individuals to help those get a new lease on life and prevent recidivism, thus continuing to strengthen our community,” said Chip Bryan, Director of Talent Acquisition for Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont.
Goodwill’s mission is to build pathways that help people pursue the life they want to achieve. This means that we enhance people’s dignity and quality of life by ensuring equitable career opportunities are available. Our organization is proud to be a second chance employer and will continue to stand firm in our commitment to creating more equitable access to career opportunities for all.