Written by Tech Dump's Work Readiness Program Manger, Tim Dorway
Most years, April comes around and our local, state and national governments make proclamations about Second Chance Month, bringing much needed attention to the fact that it is so hard to overcome an error in judgment that puts someone in the criminal legal system. We are all in need of second chances, regardless of criminal background. More importantly, we are all in need of a fair chance, which is a small change in language we are strongly seeking here at Tech Dump.
This month, we had the honor to be a part of the Ramsey (MN) County proclamation and were able to share our beliefs, feelings, and experiences about fair chances. One in three U.S. adults has a criminal record. This is a massive societal issue and should cause us to reflect on what the words “fair chance” mean. So many times, we SAY we believe in a second or fair chance, but our actions do not match those words as communities.
I have the privilege and honor of working each day with men and women also experiencing decarceration. These are hard-working, grateful, loyal, innovative, and talented people with really tough stories and backgrounds. Men and women who are doing their very best to restart their lives; rejoin their families; and prove to themselves, their loved ones, and communities that they will NOT be defined by their worst moment. Do any of us want to be defined by our worst moment? Absolutely not.
I am grateful to work in a place that believes in me and who I am today and not who I was. You see, Tech Dump believes we are all defined by our FUTURES. Our work readiness program focuses on the following three, hope-based goal areas:
- Getting Hope by removing barriers
- Growing Hope by increasing earning capacity
- Living Hope by growing self-efficacy and making things right
Reintegration is not easy. It is anxiety-producing, overwhelming, and scary. There are medical and dental appointments to make, having not had access to consistent and preventative health care in prison. Then there is employment and housing, finding transportation or navigating public transportation, researching insurance, finding clothing, opening a bank account, and shopping at the grocery store for the first time in ten years. What’s a self-checkout? How do I log into a computer, let alone configure a smartphone? When did washing machines get a door on the front? Who believes in me now? With whom can I be honest? And what will that honesty cost me?
Thankfully, there are places like Tech Dump. We care about those reintegrating, who they are and who they want to be. Here is what it looks like in practice, when we invest in others, lift them, and give them a fair shot.
Loren is in our work readiness program. He has been held hostage by the system for a poor decision he made over twenty years ago. He has been in and out of prison a couple of times since his release, but not because he committed another offense.
Loren didn’t have good housing or a good support system. He had trouble finding work because of that poor choice he made many years ago, and that led him to break a rule. A rule that put him back inside the razor wire.
Loren is hard-working, grateful, happy, dependable, and worth the effort. He has a huge heart and the biggest smile. He recently earned a digital literacy certificate in basic computing and has finally been able to get a place of his own.
Loren is also already showing his leadership capacity to others in our program. Last week in a training session, Loren announced to our work readiness peers how grateful he is to be moving into his first place on his own and said, “This is what happens when you do things the right way.”
A second chance? Sometimes it takes more than that, but he’s worth it.
What did it cost us to invest in Loren? To give him a chance? To show him grace and tell him we care about him and want him to do well? To greet him each day and welcome him to work? Not. One. Thing.
Grace costs nothing and it is worth everything. Grace changes lives and it changes communities. Grace gives hope, grows hope, and lives hope.
We are grateful for the important public steps our elected officials have taken to proclaim April Second Chance Month. For recognizing the importance of fair and second chances to our community and to those rejoining us and coming home.
We all get better when we all get better.