Jamal Randle, from left, Loren Cowling, and Dave Jackson fill out applications for positions at a new bar and restaurant in Detroit, Sept. 25, 2009. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Let me start with the fact that I am glad that President Obama told Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie that he’s glad the team gave quarterback Michael Vick a “second chance” after his release from jail where he served 19 months for his role in a dog fighting ring. Everyone deserves a second chance—and in some cases a third and fourth one.
And even though I am glad that the President made that call, let’s get real about who Michael Vick really is.
If the President never made that call, Michael Vick was going to be ok. Given his record in the NFL, the early MVP nods, and the money he’s already earned, if you ask me, that phone call was just the cherry on top.
Rather than call Eagles owner Jeffrey Laurie, the President could have really made an impact by addressing employers throughout America on the importance of giving all ex-prisoners—regardless of their football playing ability—a second chance and freeing them from a life without the possibility of employment.
A report released in 2010 by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) tracked about 108,000 inmates released from state prisons between 2005 and 2006 over the course of three years. The report found that the state’s recidivism rate, which has long been among the highest in the country, is at 67.5 percent—just over two-thirds.
Now CDCR will tell you that vehicle theft, failure to regularly report in to a parole officer, and receiving stolen items are the top three reasons people are sent back to prison. That may be true because that was the actual crime committed, but not the reason why the crime was committed.
If you take the same inmates from the study and ask them why they reoffended, I guarantee you the number one answer is going to be that they couldn’t find a job to make money so they resorted to what they already knew…crime. And no—I am not condoning crime, but it is what it is.
Fifteen million Americans are out of work—or 9.8 percent. But for Black Americans, well, we are unemployed at a rate of 16 percent. And you and I know it’s not because we don’t want to work—more like we can’t find work.
In 2011, the fight is for jobs —and not just for those of us who can pass background tests, but for all of us.
Americans who have recently lost their jobs in this economic crisis and are now looking for replacement employment have been bombarded with messages from job coaches on lowering not only their salary expectations but also the expectation they have for the next type of position they will hold. Workers previously employed as directors and managers are at the point where they are happy to take an entry-level position just to have a job.
It’s no secret that if it’s that hard for a person with no criminal history to find a job, then it’s damn near impossible for ex-prisoner’s re-entering society.
Did anyone ever stop to think that maybe the employee isn’t the person in this equation who needs to make adjustments? What about the employer?
Going into 2011, employers need to rethink their hiring practices as it relates to ex-prisoners. Non-violent felonies shouldn’t be an automatic disqualification for a job.
Today it’s not enough to mandate that businesses in our community hire locally. We have to also ensure businesses in our community allot a number of positions for ex-prisoners as well—a message better carried by Congress and our president to the same wealthy CEOs asking for tax breaks and exemptions.
To date, the current Administration and Congress has focused almost exclusively on saving the middle class, keeping the rich rich, and providing tax breaks and exemptions to corporations and their wealthy stockholders. Anyone not fitting into one these categories seemingly doesn’t exist to Washington.
But you and I know that they do exist. In fact, some of us only have to look as far as our own family.
Look—we can’t depend on Washington to pick up this fight. We are going to have to do it. We’re going to have to represent for our fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, and the like—if we ever expect for them to get up off of the couch or off the corner. No one wants or deserves to serve a sentence of life without the possibility of employment.
And it’s not going to be easy. If it means that we’ve got to boycott businesses in the hood that refuse to hire from within the hood then so be it.
I mean think about it—when was the last time you saw someone Black working at the carwash or your local fast food restaurant? I’m just saying, it’s time to take this fight to the streets.
When you’re busy working you don’t have time to do drive-by shootings, slang drugs, or plot a robbery that ends up being a double homicide.
Instead of building new prisons for the return trip of ex-prisoner’s, we should be focused making sure that there are opportunities for them when they get out so that they don’t return. Anything less is almost ensuring that those released will be coming back.
In the case of Michael Vick, I highly doubt that’s he’s going back to prison anytime soon. And like I said at the beginning, if he never picks up a football again in life, he’s set. What about America’s ex-prisoner’s who aren’t celebrities or athletes? Who’s making the call on their behalf?
And speaking of second chances—if the president wants a “second chance” from me in 2012 with my vote, he’ll start addressing what he’s been trying to save the middle class from…poverty, or what I refer to it as–the gateway class to crime, domestic violence and drugs.
Holla if you feel me–and to all my LWOP brothers and my unemployed sistas and brothas, keep ya head up and don’t give up the struggle.