Business & Economy

First-ever job fair in Pasadena gives second chance to parolees

Parolee job fair - ex-con David Gavaldon
Parolee job fair - ex-con David Gavaldon
Shirley Jahad/KPCC

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It’s tough enough to find a job these days. It’s tougher still if you’re fresh out of prison.

That’s why parole officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation tried something new last week. They invited 20 businesses to a job fair at Pasadena’s Jackie Robinson Park Auditorium.

KPCC’s Shirley Jahad talked with the parolees looking for a new job – and a new start.

Most of the couple hundred parolees lined up for the job fair dressed up in hopes of getting work. Kafshi Bennett looked sharp, wearing a pressed white shirt and a tie. When asked if he was ready for an interview, he said, “Amen. Yes, I am.”

A few tattoos peeked above Bennett’s white collar. He says they’re from his “foolish days.” Kafshi Bennett is hoping to catch on as a plumber.

Some of the parolees standing in line with him served only 10 months behind bars. Others were locked up for 20 years.

Twenty-three-year-old America Perez spent nearly a year in prison – and then another in a women’s residential treatment center. “It’s my first time doing a job fair and hopefully I can get information to help other people and networking."

Perez is looking for work as an X-ray technician. "I went to school for that. I am getting off parole next month and I am going to see if I can expunge my record. But they told me I have to wait five years, but I am not giving up you know. Hopefully somebody will hire me. It’s hard for me, to get a job, ‘cause I have a felony, you know. But I have to maintain and be positive no matter what.”

She was in prison for selling and using crystal meth. “I was 13 years old. It was introduced to me and I fell in love with it. It took over my soul, everything.”

She became a user at 13. “Yeah, I was a user but a functional user. I went to school. I went to my junior high. I was a cheerleader in high school. I was a functional, I just got caught up.”

Lisa Benjamin with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation helped organize the job fair. She says it’s in the community’s best interest to help parolees succeed.

“Guess what? They are going to be our neighbors," said Benjamin. "They are going to be your mom’s neighbor and your sister’s neighbor. So the reality is it’s better to help than not.”

It’s not bad for business, either. The Department of Corrections says a company can qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $9,000 if it hires an ex-con – maybe an ex-con like David Gavaldon. He has gentle eyes; he also has tattoos that creep around his head close to those eyes.

The 30-year-old ex-con from Whittier says he’s at the job fair to do only one thing: “Generate a cash flow, you know? Generate a cash flow so I won’t have to sell drugs no more. Break the cycle."

Gavaldon talked about that cycle. "In and out of prison, ya know, running the streets, gangs. Whatever I’ve done before in the past hasn’t been working so I figure I would try something new."

His head is shaved, and he has tattoos on his neck, head and above his eyebrows, covering his head with tattoos. He agrees that some might find him intimidating. "Right. That’s fine. In a way, it’s meant for that. Yeah. It’s who I am as a person. An expression. Gang activity. Culture. Artwork."

Gavaldon says he served time for "Robbery, high speed chases, nothing serious thus far." He wears an ankle monitor. "Monitor my movement. See who I’m hanging around with, where I’m going. Keeps me in check."

He says he's never tried straight work before; this is his first launch. "To generate an income that’s not going to be taken away – or I won’t have to go to jail for."

Gavaldon's never gone on a job interview before, but he's looking forward to it. "Good different experience. Hopefully it works out for the best.”

Gavaldon practiced sitting for a job interview. He also got help writing a resume.

Some employers were looking to hire at the job fair. They invited several parolees to come back so they could get a second interview – and maybe a second chance.