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Breaking Ground: Two formerly incarcerated men rebuild their lives while rebuilding a Bayview public housing community

Originally posted in the Mission Local.

The Mission Local, originally a project of UC Berkeley’s Journalism School and now an independent San Francisco neighborhood newspaper, discusses employment barriers with CJCJ’s Director of Community-Based Services Gerald Miller.

From the article:

Some people leave prison and return to absolutely nothing. Maybe some burned bridges, maybe with just $200 in their pocket, which they get at the prison gate when they leave.

And then you get to San Francisco, you get into one of the hardest places to live financially in the world,” said Gerald Miller, a formerly incarcerated San Francisco resident who works as director of community-based services at the Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice, which offers a wrap-around services program for ex-convicts.

And I always tell people — what would you do if you only had enough money for three meals?” he said. “‘What would you do?’ That’s not a good question. The question would be, what wouldn’t you do to feed yourself?’”

Miller said a job keeps you out of trouble eight hours a day. Two full-time jobs? Even better. It’s the time when someone’s not busy that’s the problem, the struggle, he said.

You don’t have to watch your back, but you have to watch how you step,” said Shaw, who hasn’t had a lick of alcohol since before he wound up in prison.

Returning to a neighborhood like the Bayview is even harder. The neighborhood, one of the city’s last black enclaves, has one of the highest rates of concentrated poverty. Some 45 percent of Bayview residents are low-income, according to data from the Human Services Agency.

And it’s in a city that, despite having the ninth-highest general employment rate in the country, sees a stark employment disparity between white and African-American populations, according to a Brookings Institute study published this year. It reported that 84 percent of white San Franciscans were employed, compared to only 54 percent of African-Americans.

When you walk into a place of employment, looking for a job, you’re not looking at people who look like you, and people respond to that difference,” Miller said. They see you and, whether they want to or not, and especially if you have dreadlocks or something else going on with you, they’re gonna look, and you’re gonna feel it. That sets up a barrier.”

More often than not, a record can feel like a brick wall, Bell added. She sees it all the time in her work. People think, before they even apply, I can’t get a job. I have a felony.” An employer would never consider me, I have a felony.”

That concern is real, it’s palpable,” Bell said. Even after the city’s Fair Chance Ordinance passed in 2014, pushing any discussion of criminal history until after an offer of employment, that bias, implicit or otherwise, against hiring the formerly incarcerated still exists.

Read the full article on Mission Local »

Related Links:

Back to work: San Francisco reduces unfair barriers to employment

The Post-Release Employment and Recidivism Among Different Types of Offenders With A Different Level of Education: A 5‑Year Follow-Up Study in Indiana