The Hope and Promise of a Second Chance
By Arte Nathan President & Chief Executive Officer, Strategic Development Worldwide | March 05, 2017
It started as a favor: a local politician looking to help a constituent find a job. As Steve Wynn’s HR guy, I was responsible for hiring lots of people and told him I had some ideas: try this guy out as a laborer and see how it works out. At the time we had more applications than we needed, but this seemed like the right thing to do. As I learned, good intentions like this need experience to make them successful.
The referral turned out to be a gang-banger wanting to go straight: but his buffed up physique, tats and missing-eye-without-an-eye-patch were intimidating. Fortunately he was more soft-spoken than gruff, and definitely sincere. I took him to meet a hiring manager who over-reacted a bit when he first saw him, but like me, decided to give it a try after hearing his story. Moral of this story: don’t judge a book by its cover when thinking about giving someone a second chance.
He’d served his time, made up his mind to change his ways, and was definitely motivated: but old habits and friends are hard to change and it became apparent more help was needed if he was going to successfully transition to a new life and lifestyle. I knew people at the local police department and got introduced to a few probation officers: they certainly knew more than I did and that led to introductions to local faith-based professionals who also had experience with helping ex-offenders reenter society. This was back during the time when the concept of “it takes a village” was growing popular so I involved others who could help.
But once I stepped through that first door, other applicants with criminal backgrounds began to appear. I met the State Corrections Director who showed me their boot camp for first time non-violent felony offenders: judges and district attorneys had the discretion to assign some to this alternate incarceration experiment. Run by an ex-Marine Drill Sergeant, it was successful in motivating offenders to do what it takes to not ever return to the judicial system: a large part of that solution was helping them get a job when they got out. That’s when I took my second step into the world of reentry.
The boot camp graduated 16 guys every six months and I started offering jobs to all of those who wanted to stay in southern Nevada: the hospitality industry has many entry level needs for laborers, kitchen workers, cooks, cleaners and other jobs that can give ex-offenders a chance to prove themselves without being in situations with tempting opportunities. I soon discovered that parole and probation professionals, local clergy, and committed employees from the Nevada’s Department of Education, Training and Rehabilitation were all engaged in providing assistance.
Together we came up with the concept that some period of mentoring was needed to help those reentering society and the world of work: ex-offenders face too much peer pressure that needs to be counter balanced. State agencies provide effective oversight, others provided counseling for drug, alcohol and family issues, and the clergy sought to instill character and values. But like someone in a 12-step program needs a sponsor, we recognized that our ex-offenders needed to call someone to get non-judgmental advice, an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on. At the time I knew a few ex-pro athletes and one or two sympathetic police officers and we put together a 12-month mentoring program to help our second-chance employees stay on their transitional roads to recovery and reentry.
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