Ex-offenders getting boost at employment center

Posted at 8:07 PM, Sep 25, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-25 20:07:07-04
Thousands of ex-offenders get out of jails and prisons in Maryland every year, and finding a job -- reducing the chance they'll go back behind bars -- is one of the main issues they face.
It's an issue faced by some 8,000 Baltimoreans released from incarceration every year, but it's not an impossible hurdle.
He may be unemployed right now, but Earl Bouknight is no slouch.
"That second chance is coming," Bouknight said. "It's hard out here to get a job."
That's a fact confounded even further by his unemployment, because money is tough to come by. A bus ride gets him from his home in northeast Baltimore to the Mondawmin Mall, where the Mayor's Office of Employment Development's Northwest Career Center is housed.
That's where Bouknight, and countless others go to get help finding a job. Yet it's a trip Bouknight can only make a handful of times each month, and that's because that crosstown bus ride costs $4 dollars, which is money Bouknight said isn't easy to find.
"I'm an ex-offender, and i have some charges on my record, so some of the applications that I have put in, they might look over that and say 'We can't do nothing with this cat,'" Bouknight said.
"That's the stigma," said Gerald Grimes, Project Manager at the center. More than 250 people come into the employment center every month. Nearly half of them half criminal records, Grimes said.
In Bouknight's case, it's a 20 year old assault conviction, he said, holding him back from finding a job.
"When people think of someone being convicted of a crime, their mind goes to all sorts of things," Grimes said.
Grimes, whom has run the center for seven years, said what makes the "one stop" career center a cut above any other is their holistic approach. They help remove what he said were barriers to employment.
"For instance, one barrier is identification," he said, which could mean no access to housing. Many people coming in also need social security cards, birth certificates, or even GED's, in some cases. If a person lacks training for a particular field of interest, they receive the training they need to help them reach their goal.
"Everything we do is designed to get you that job employment opportunity. If you have a barrier to employment, we want to mitigate that barrier," Grimes said.
Though Bouknight's held two steady jobs in the 20 years since his conviction, he said his record now is what keeps him from finding another. Even that's a door he said will eventually open, as long as he can make it across town.
"I know it's going to open. Somebody going to say 'Okay, we can give him a second chance,' because people deserve second chances," he said.
The center also offers creative writing classes as an emotional outlet, held in a partnership with John's Hopkins University.