Goodwill Industries Helps Ex-Offenders Reenter Workforce

November 4, 2014

Goodwill Industries provides a wide range of training, placement and workforce development services to help veterans, people with disabilities or a lack of education, and ex-offenders re-entering the workforce develop the skills needed to find jobs.

After serving two stints in local jails, Ezimbalist Pollard wasn’t an ideal candidate for a job.

“I was never a bad person,” explains Pollard, “but when you make bad choices, people look at you as a bad person.”

Pollard wanted to start his life over, including his work life, and at Goodwill Industries, he found just the thing to help.

“They don’t judge what you’ve done to what you trying to do now,’” he says.  “I guess that’s why they call it Second Chance.”

Goodwill’s program for ex-offenders – Second Chance — recruits folks recently released from prison.  Ex-offenders go through an orientation and are assigned a case manager who finds out what they need: is it computer skills to apply for jobs? financial literacy classes? GED classes? job experience? training? Whatever it is, Second Chance wants to eliminate the barriers that get in the way of returning to non-prison life.

“You come in here, you get with a worker, and then they start preparing you for reentering the workforce,” says Pollard. “They get you mentally prepared for the workforce. They let you know it doesn’t matter what you’ve done up to this point; it’s what you do moving forward.”

Pollard had experience driving trucks and selling cars, but now he had a criminal record and had to start over – at the bottom, he says. He takes me to see where it all started.

“We taking a stroll down the main hallway, and we going to the warehouse which is in back of the other building.”

He leads me through the Goodwill store and the staff break room to where he worked five days a week, eight hours a day, making huge bails of clothes which weighed between fifteen and eighteen hundred pounds.

“This is where we started at, this is what we call the warehouse.” He points to a huge bailing machine. “That’s the clothes they don’t need no more or don’t use no more. The trucks bring them in from different stores, and what they do is bail them up and send them off to be recycled.”

The quota was five bails a day. Mr. Pollard holds the record at thirteen. He worked hard and eventually, the staff at Second Chance came to him and said,

“I know you been working hard, I know you want something different.  And I know you like being around here, but they might have an opportunity that we could come up with that would more benefit you,” recalls Pollard. “And what they said was all you have to do is ace the interview. Prepare yourself so you can ace the interview because it’s a big process, a lot of people are going to interview for the job, but the only way you going to get it this job is to stand out.”

The job was in transportation, and Mr. Pollard wanted it. He read up on everything about the position and the employer – which we can’t name in this story for confidentiality reasons. Three thousand people applied, and in the first round of selection,

“They only chose ten. Five that was supposed to be there, two that needed an opportunity, and three that was qualified.”

Those two slots Mr. Pollard is talking about – for two people who needed an opportunity – Goodwill worked with the employer to create those positions.

“I was one of the two that deserved the opportunity,” says Pollard.

“Had he gone in and applied for this job that had 3000 applicants, they never would have looked at him. They would have looked at the box,” says Sabrina Written, Goodwill Industry’s director of Public Relations. The box she’s talking about is the one on most job applications, which asks, “have you ever been convicted of a crime?”

“Immediately, for a lot of candidates, they will not consider that,” explains Written. “It really takes a community to change that.  And through this program and trying to build a coalition of employers that will support those second chances, we hope to make that happen.”

Clearly, it’s happened for Ezimbalist Pollard – who loves his job and how getting that job changed him.

“I always been a hot head,” admits Pollard, “and it was hindering everything about me. It was hindering my relationships because I was so selfish about me that nobody else mattered. And by having a second opportunity at life, it gave me the made me the chance to look at and reevaluate everything about me.  I like the person I am now.”

Written by Eve Abrams for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation. To learn more about Goodwill Industries, click here.