Offering offenders a second chance to build new lives
By John Joyce
Published in News on February 24, 2014 1:46 PM
Executive director and founder of CORP Carolyn Jones speaks about the life experiences that led her to organize a service that helps non-violent criminals find work and to start their lives over again.
As Carolyn Jones sits behind the desk in her new office, she counts on each finger the number of loved ones she has lost either to violence or to prison.
Among them -- her brother. He spent 11 years in prison only to be murdered the day of his release.
"He got out on a Friday morning. He got killed on Friday night," she said.
Her stepson was shot three days after her brother's funeral.
Multiple nephews would also fall victim to the streets, she said.
All of it, Ms. Jones said, stemmed from the revolving door of the prison system, perpetuated by drugs and the hustling that goes on in city streets all over the country.
And it is going on in Goldsboro, she said.
A large button fastened to Ms. Jones' lapel reads, "I believe in second chances."
And that is the reason she founded the Chosen One Reentry Program, CORP Inc., so she could do just that -- give offenders recently released from custody a chance at life after prison.
"Reentry is a non-profit organization that helps former offenders that are non-violent, as they are released from prison or jail, get back into the community in a positive way," she said.
She said she discovered the idea while her son was in prison serving an eight-year sentence. He had been in and out of jail 14 years.
For six years, Ms. Jones studied, researched and investigated reentry. It was through that process she came up with the concept for CORP.
"I didn't make anything new. I only duplicated what I found," she said.
Ms. Jones, formerly Carolyn Jones-Thomas, first implemented reentry in the form of BLINC, Building Lives of Inmates in North Carolina. The program was successful, but was forced to close down after her divorce.
More than a year later, and under a new name, Ms. Jones is back in the business of reassimilating non-violent offenders.
She said she holds two college degrees in human resources and management. She is certified in both career readiness certification training and testing, and is certified by the Transitional Aftercare Network for in-house inmates and those on post-release supervision. Most recently Ms. Jones obtained her offender employer specialist certificate in a reentry program hosted at Butner Federal Prison.
Her clients come from referrals made by state and federal parole boards. Background checks are conducted to weed out those with violent criminal pasts.
"If they have any type of assault charges, armed robbery, rape or child molestation, any crime where they have strong-armed another person, we will not help them," she said.
The CORP staff is entirely made up of volunteers.
And they are looking for more.
Intake specialist Cheryl Hopkins greets clients and takes them through the enrollment process. There is a $30 enrollment fee and interviews are by appointment only -- no walk-ins.
Ms. Jones meets with each prospective client. She said the process starts with getting to know the person first.
"Every person is different. You have to let people be themselves," she said.
She first asks each potential client a single, pointed question.
"Do you want a new mother?" she asks.
Grown men, hardened from their time in prison and the tough lives that led many of them there to begin with, often break down in her office.
"I mean tears," she said.
She relates to her clients due to her own experiences with the penal system and the streets.
The reentry process begins with a one-hour needs assessment to determine potential obstacles the client might encounter. Ms. Jones said many people coming out of jail have substance abuse or mental health issues.
When people go to jail for a long time, they lose every connection they have to society, she said.
"They have, some of them, broken hearts, broken homes, broken families -- if they have a family," she said.
Cara Murray, a licensed social worker, handles the assessments and makes any necessary referrals for treatment or counseling.
"Whatever issues they might be having, I address," Ms. Murray said
The next step is for the client to take it upon themselves to follow through with any assigned treatment, be it drug or alcohol addiction education or anger management.
"They have to be motivated," she said.
CORP does its own drug screening. A potential client cannot be actively using and is expected to find employment, Ms. Jones said.
The third phase is education.
CORP works with Wayne Community College and other resources to help clients develop job skills and to obtain certifications.
The final phase is job placement.
CORP currently has agreements with Case Farms, Butterball and Franklin Bakery. A relationship with Sanderson Farms is next, she said.
CORP has recently moved to a larger office space at 200 W. Ash St., Suite 200. There, a computer lab is under construction and will house six to eight computers clients will use for training and education purposes.
Anyone fitting the criteria of a non-violent offender seeking employment assistance is encouraged to contact CORP by calling either 919-974-0649 or 919-947-0107.
Prison or jail inmates who are 90 days or less removed from their scheduled release may write to CORP at 200 W. Ash St., Suite 200, Goldsboro, N.C. 27530.
Volunteers also are needed and welcome, Ms. Jones said.