Probation turns into second chances
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 16, 2008 2:01 AM
Perry Bunn wasn't used to punching a time clock.
And, to be honest, after landing on probation in October, it wasn't something he expected to be doing -- not with his background.
But last week, as the 28-year-old reported to work at Uchiyama America Inc. on Arrington Bridge Road for the first time, he did.
"I feel really good about myself," Bunn said. "I feel like I'm doing something really positive with myself."
But he couldn't have made it there alone -- not with the felonies on his record.
He needed help. He needed somebody to believe in him and give him a chance.
He needed the Wayne County Day Reporting Center, Wayne Community College, and most of all, Uchiyama.
His opportunity came about as the result of the partnership between the three entities.
Part of the college's mission, explained occupational extension director Carlos Cotto, is helping train employees for specific local industries, and one of those, Uchiyama, had contacted him looking to increase its labor force.
The result of the partnership was a class, taught by one of Uchiyama's own supervisors, that served as an extended job interview and training session.
In the end, anybody graduating with a grade of at least 85 percent on the final exam received consideration for a job with a starting salary between $8 and $9 an hour, with the opportunity for a raise after 90 days -- provided they had attended class, had been on time and had a professional attitude.
"It gave (Uchiyama human resources director Dave Parsons) a pool to hire from rather than hiring blind," Cotto explained.
The first class began with 32 students. Of the nine who were offered jobs, two from the Day Reporting Center are now working at Uchiyama.
"I had no qualms doing that as long as they met the requirements we had," Parsons said.
And for that, center director Theresa Barratt is thankful.
"This is big for them," she said. "It's a lifestyle change for them. We've taken these individuals, people who pretty much had been discarded, and helped them obtain this goal. But they did it on their own and we're very proud of them."
But, she explained, there's more to it than just turning a couple of people out to work.
They have to qualify first.
The center, which serves approximately 60 people either on pretrial release, probation or who owe child support, offers substance abuse programs, career-building classes, behavioral training programs and GED classes.
But that wasn't enough, Mrs. Barratt said.
She and others wanted to find a way to really help keep these people from returning to jail.
So they partnered with the college and Uchiyama.
"It was a combination of people who got together and decided that we could really rehabilitate these people if we could just get them into the work force," she said.
And so they decided that to qualify for the class, individuals would have to be drug-free for 45 days and finished with their behavioral training and GED classes. They also decided that the county would pay the class registration fee.
"The taxpayers need to understand, do we pay $55 now, or $45 a day for them to be in the county jail," Mrs. Barratt said. "It's a whole lot cheaper to do it this way. A lot of them are worth saving and this way, we can really assist them in becoming productive citizens.
"They need this. This is our final step in rehabilitating them, and if they mess up then, it's not because any of us failed them."
It's an opportunity that Bunn says he won't soon forget.
"It was very hard for me to get find a job because of my criminal record," he said.
But when this opportunity came along, he continued, "I decided I really needed to get myself together."
Without it, he acknowledged that he would likely end up back in jail. With it, he's looking forward to his future.
"I'm going to continue to work and save me up some money," he said.
Now, Mrs. Barratt said, they're looking for other companies to partner with, and Uchiyama has begun another class with five more students coming from the center.
"It's hard for employers to look past my background and see who I am now," said Anthony Owens, a 33-year-old recovering drug addict and one of the new class members. "We're at a point right now we need to get on our feet. This is such a blessing."
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