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The Daily Tar Heel

Program helps ex-inmates

Project Re-entry teaches job and interview skills

While in prison, she became a participant in a program called Project Re-entry, a unique program in North Carolina prisons that teaches inmates job skills and everyday life management skills to ease their transition back into the working world once they’re no longer incarcerated.

Mans now works in Guilford County as an employee of Project Re-entry, which she said changed her life’s goals and confidence level for the better.

“The program broke me down to the lowest I can be broken down, and then it built me back up bigger, better, stronger,” she said at a presentation for National Reentry Week on April 28 before a crowd of law enforcement officers and criminal justice officials at Silverspot Cinemas in Chapel Hill.

The presentation was part of an effort to recognize North Carolina’s achievements toward reducing the rates of recidivism by implementing programs that help rehabilitate, counsel and guide past offenders.

Participants in Project Re-entry, which serves more than 500 inmates each year, undergo a curriculum that includes instruction on topics ranging from healthy interpersonal relationships to job interview practice.

The program also provides support once the participants are released from prison to help them re-integrate into their families and communities and keep from succumbing to emotional and substance abuse issues that may arise.

Donnie Richardson, a Project Re-entry graduate who went to prison as a teenager and was incarcerated for four years, said he was tempted to go back to dealing drugs when he got out — until he got his first paycheck at the job Project Re-entry helped connect him to.

“My entire life, I had never actually seen a paycheck — the moment I got that first paycheck, I knew I was never going back to jail,” Richardson said.

Richardson worked his way up through jobs and now earns $14 per hour as a lab technician.

“My mom calls me every day now to tell me how proud she is,” he said. “She never used to do that before.”

Project Re-entry also partners with other programs such as Jobs on the Outside, a service of Goodwill Industries of Central North Carolina, Inc. Jobs on the Outside helps people who have been in prison find jobs in a market where finding a job with a criminal record is extremely difficult.

“An important component of that is creating a judgment-free zone that is welcoming of all types of past offenders, including those who were incarcerated for sex crimes or homicide,” said Mark Cole, a program manager at Goodwill Industries.

“We tell them, you’re going to get a minimum wage job. It doesn’t matter. That’s not the end of the road. You’ve got a destiny,” Cole said.

“The first thing is believing in yourself. You’ve got to sell yourself to get a job — but first you’ve got to believe you have skills.”

Cole said Jobs on the Outside places one in three of its clients in a job and has served about 5,000 people in the five years since the program was founded.

Andrew Doll, another Project Re-entry participant, went to prison for embezzling from his place of employment. When he got out, he couldn’t find a job.

“I was such a miserable person before I went to prison — when I got back, nobody wanted me. Thank God for the re-entry program. I had a place to stay, I had food to eat, I had clothes,” Doll said.

“I had people who cared about me and supported me, not in spite of who I am, but they loved me as I am today.”

city@dailytarheel.com

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