The Long Road Home

Why so many parolees go back to prison, and how a new approach could help turn them around.

"You got a lot of people working $6-an-hour jobs and having attitudes because it's not the kind of work they want to do," Isaac says. "But they don't have a lot of time to look."

Isaac is not above considering a $6-an-hour position himself. Survival job, then maybe something better down the line. But he also has some accounting experience, and the numbers don't look good. He pays $93 a week rent at the halfway house. He owes $1,800 in restitution, which will hoover 20 percent from his gross pay until satisfied. His drug classes cost him another $100 a month. Even at $8 an hour, he'll be lucky to have two nickels to rub together at the end of the month.

"Then they want you to have a thousand dollars in savings to come out of the halfway house," Isaac says. "Come on. There's no way."

Ray Maestes builds relationships with "felon-friendly" 
employers, continuing the work of John Inmann, who's 
remembered in a plaque at the center named after 
John Johnston
Ray Maestes builds relationships with "felon-friendly" employers, continuing the work of John Inmann, who's remembered in a plaque at the center named after him.

Complaints about how parole and halfway-house restrictions get in the way of job hunting are common among the center's clientele. Out in the lobby, William Hartford and Derrick Murillo are comparing notes. Hartford has a forgery conviction for using his brother's name when he was pulled over for driving without a license; a subsequent parole violation (driving, again) landed him in a halfway house, where he's required to take domestic-violence and drug and alcohol classes -- even though he insists his crime had nothing to do with any of those issues.

"I just do the programs," Hartford says. "If you try to fight them, it tends to bite you in the ass."

But doing the programs, which cost him $200 a month, isn't getting him out of hock. In three months of steady work at a print shop, he's managed to save exactly $300.

Murillo is also doing time in a halfway house after a parole revocation, the result of two "hot UAs" -- flunked urinalysis tests -- that sent him back to prison for nine months. He's got his share of classes to attend, too, but what torques him is the requirement that any job he takes have a "phone location" where he can be reached at all times. No cell phones, for obvious reasons.

"You can't get a job you want, like landscaping or construction, 'cause there's no phone location," Murillo says. "You got to take these restaurant jobs. Six dollars an hour, and I got five kids to support. I could have had a job and paid my restitution a long time ago. Instead, I'm $800 in the hole."

Whatever their gripes, the center's clients tend to agree on one thing: The place is a godsend. A case manager huddles with Murillo to see what can be done about his pinched finances. Hartford speaks in hushed tones about how much he appreciates the staff and its dedication. Rudy, who heard about the center from a guy he met in rehab, scores a bus pass.

"All I wanted was help with transportation," says Rudy, who's on parole and living with his sister. "I'm pretty confident I'll find a job. Thank God I have a lot of family support. They load you up with so much stuff that some guys can't handle it. They go back to drinking and doing drugs because they figure the system is setting them up for a fall."

Elroy Isaac leaves the center thinking about job-hunting strategies and how he'll handle the next real employer interview. Survival job, warehouse job, whatever comes up -- he's going to impress the hell out of them.

Gilbert is washing dishes, but it's not one of those restaurant jobs. It's one of those dad jobs.

Elbows deep in a kitchen sink full of suds in a Federal Heights duplex, Gilbert is multi-tasking the way only a single parent can. He's got the pans soaking and dinner simmering on the stove. His two older boys are quietly doing their homework. The youngest is out in the yard, playing with relatives. He dropped his teenage daughter off at her after-school job half an hour ago. A film crew is shooting footage of his routine for a documentary that will showcase the efforts of the Inmann Work and Family Center, and a reporter is asking him questions and not offering to dry - but hey, Gilbert has it all under control.

Gilbert is considered one of the center's success stories -- not only because he connected with a good job, but because he reconnected with his family. Sentenced to four years in prison for theft, he petitioned the courts from behind bars to keep his kids from vanishing into foster care; their mother, he says, disappeared some time ago. The parole board turned him down the first time around. He went through drug and alcohol programs and was paroled after two years.

Soon after his release, he landed a job at Coors, through a training program the company offers for ex-offenders. He's learning a solid trade -- welding -- and earning a living wage. Going to the Inmann center didn't land him the job, he says, but it pointed him in the right direction. He took parenting classes, found a four-bedroom apartment and references to vouch for him, and collected his four children from their grandmother's house. At 41, he is raising them on his own and paying child support for a fifth child by another woman.

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