Brenda Evans is a career coach at Friends Outside, an organization dedicated to helping former prisoners find jobs.
Evans job was made possible through a partnership between Friends Outside in Los Angeles County and the WorkSource Center at L.A. Trade Technical College. Her program is called "From Parole to Payroll."
She says she has 60 active cases in her caseload, ranging in age from 19 to the late 60s, from teens on probation to "lifers ... we run the gauntlet."
Former inmates come in for an orientation, then a "soft" skills workshop. Then Evans works to get them ready for job interviews and ultimately, employment.
"A lot of times you’ll have those who will come because they spent a lot of time before they got to me looking for work," she says. "They feel it’s hopeless; you know, 'I’ve tried, I’ve tried.' So our job at that point is to ... supplement what they’ve already been doing, identify what can be changed and work better on their behalf."
That includes working with employers, "sharing how valuable a lot of these people are coming out," she says. Evans says she will tell prospective bosses that the ex-inmates "will show up for the job, and oftentimes outwork your current staff. Because they appreciate the job, they appreciate this is a second chance, and they have had time to contemplate what they’ve done."
Evans believes the program's voluntary nature is one of its biggest strengths. "When they come here a lot of them are tired of what they used to do, that old life," and are ready to make a change, she says.
"I am very proud of what our gentlemen and ladies are able to accomplish in spite of a lot of what they’ve gone through," Evans says. "Once they get the ball rolling and they’re getting interviews, they’re surprised by it: 'Oh, there are people out there who are willing to give us a chance.'"
When former Friends Outside clients return to say, "'Look, I bought a car, I’m in my own place right now,' there is nothing like it," says Evans. "So it’s worth all the pulling and tugging that you have to do with the employers and sometimes with them as well ... it’s very rewarding in that sense."
Evans says that in at least three instances, a client who has gotten a job has come back to her later looking to hire more workers. One had started his own baking business, and another had been promoted to supervisor in a shipping company, she says.