Offer Hope, Restore Dignity, & Transform Lives

John found a job despite his felony

By using reentry and employment services offered at STRIVE Indy, John found two jobs despite his criminal history. The program offered financial literacy classes and forklift certification.

John was addicted to his substance of choice for about 25 years, but in 2003 when his mother died his drug usage escalated and he was arrested as a result. That occurred in Dallas, but John requested to go to prison in Indiana where his sister lived so he could have a better chance at a new life when his sentence finished. Now, eight years later, John is finishing his sentence at Brandon Hall, Volunteers of America of Indiana's work-release facility in Indianapolis. He had the option to leave Brandon Hall in May and finish his sentence on house arrest, but he decided to stay and is now leaving in November. When asked about how he feels about moving out, he stated that he is hopeful and confident because he is approaching his release date with self-assurance and skills that will help him remain sober, stay out of prison, and live the life he's always wanted to live.

John attributes the main reason for his preparedness to leave Brandon Hall to the staff because they helped him develop self-confidence and individual worth. When he first came to Brandon Hall he struggled with his confidence, fear of not being able to do anything, and fear of not being able to get a job because of his time in prison. He also was discouraged because of one huge setback – he didn't have any form of ID such as his birth certificate or his social security card; he only had his prison ID. But thankfully he was able to hurdle those barriers.

He now works two jobs, one as a forklift driver where he gets twelve dollars an hour. John can now approach his release date with self-confidence and skills that will help him remain sober, stay out of prison, and live the life he's always wanted to.

I'm not gonna allow prison to define the rest of my life and who I am for the rest of my life.

In this interview, John talks about the staff, his personal feelings and experiences, and how Volunteers of America of Indiana's STRIVE Indy program worked in conjunction with his time at Brandon Hall to provide an opportunity for him to receive his forklift certification - that landed him a job where he could get better pay. Read the transcript of his full interview below to learn more about his initiative and how he took advantage of Volunteers of America of Indiana's programs.

AN: Alright, just to break the ice a little bit, what's your favorite movie?

J: I would have to say my favorite movie is Steel Magnolias, you know with Dolly Parton and Julia Roberts. It's funny you ask that because I was thinking about it earlier today; it was one of my Mom's favorite movies.

AN: Do you have any hobbies?

J: I love dogs. I do a little bit of dog training. I have a friend with a few dogs who are rowdy. So we're working with them and trying to get them calmed down - trying to give them some manners. I like to train dogs. They're two buddies, a basset hound and a Rhodesian ridgeback, they were both strays together. Both sides of the spectrum. They're really cool dogs. I learned how to train dogs while I was in prison in Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery Alabama. I was a part of the dog program, that's where I started training dogs. I had a dog for six months, and got to train him. We trained basic commands but then we trained a few other you know like tricks and stuff but it was mainly for Canine Companions for Independence; it's an organization out of Florida that pairs service dogs with kids and with people with disabilities. So I got to be a part of that program. It was really neat.

AN: Oh, so you went to prison in Alabama as well as in Indiana?

J: Yeah I was transferred there. I got in trouble in TX, but my sister lives in Anderson so I asked to come up here to Indiana. My parents were gone so she said, why don't you come here? Start over. And it's been the best choice I've ever made in my life. You know, come here, somewhere new; I have a choice now to make the right choices with people. I don't have to, you know, weed out the bad people. I can choose to hang around good people, positive people. And the judge gave me a recommendation to come here. I was in Terre Haute in 2008, and then I went to Alabama where they had a drug program. They gave me a year off because I participated in the drug program. But I didn't do it for the year off, I did it for me. You know, the first part of my life I didn't do nothing, I did drugs. And I knew that if I wanted to quit I needed to make a change and do something different and be someone different I had to get all the help I could get. I'm 47 years old and I'm having to learn to be an adult now, because I've never really been an adult. But, it was a good thing. You know, people say that prison saves them and people say oh, you can't say that but it saved me. You know, I was in a downhill spiral I lost my mom in 2003, and when I lost my mom I just kind of lost everything. That's when I spiraled down and really got into drugs. It was good that I got arrested and went to prison because so much good has come out of it. I still have a younger sister around. My baby sister and my baby brother are a real big part of my support group. While I was in prison I just worked hard to change my life and to do things differently. To go to classes, and, you know, did things, positive things, and of course when I got here [Brandon Hall] it took off from there.

AN: How did you first hear about Brandon Hall?

J: I guess it was my last year in prison. And I inquired about where I was going for halfway houses and stuff. Another friend came here from the same prison I was at, and he sent me some stuff and he talked about how good it was. You know, he's done real well, he's part of a computer tech business now that he got hooked up with through VOA.

AN: So what did you struggle with most when you came here?

J: I struggled with my confidence and with my fear of not being able to do anything. Not being able to get a job, because of prison. We carry a stigma with us, oh he's been in prison no one's gonna do anything for him. He's a mess because he's been in prison. And I felt that way with a couple of jobs that I applied for, but then, it's like, it was me. I was allowing myself to fixate on the prison thing, which I'm sure I was projecting. Now it's like, I don't even bring it up. I'm not gonna allow prison to define the rest of my life and who I am for the rest of my life.

AN: And you've been here for seven months, right? What were your first impressions of VOA when you first got here?

J: When I first got here, I thought that I was not going to be able to do this. I didn't have any ID, I only had my prison ID. I didn't have my birth certificate, or my social security card. And so I was kind of stuck in th dorm, day in and day out for the first two weeks. And Ms. Sylvia, she's one of the ladies who works here, and I went to her and I said I gotta get punched in the mouth so I can go back to prison. And she said “Whaaat, what are you talking about?" And I said, I can't do this. I guess I got complacent in prison, I got comfortable. I knew the routine, I knew what to do, I'm not doing anything. I can't move around, I can't get a job, I mean, I was freaking out after being locked up for almost ten years and things had changed. She said, oh, we're not gonna have this. You just chill out. She called downstairs. Ms. Maxey is one of my cheerleaders. She asked me what was going on, so I told her. She said, we can help you get past these hurdles. And so they got my birth certificate for me the next week and they even paid the extra money to get it sooner. Two weeks after that I got my ID and two weeks after that I got a job.

AN: Cool! So that was your main barrier, having all the paperwork?

J: Absolutely, absolutely. And if it hadn't been for Ms. Maxey and Mr. Jackson – he pulled specifically for me. Ms. Maxey told me that he does his job but he really wanted to help you. He said, let's help Mr. Carter. I said, he really said that? And she said, yeah! And he sat on the phone for 45 minutes trying to help me get my Id. Then he said, now I know why you're frustrated. They've stepped up and gone out of their way to make sure that I've got what I need. And they do that with everybody. A lot of these guys I try to tell them, you can either work with this or you can work against it. And if you work against it then you're not gonna get anywhere. And nobody understands and I have to explain to them and tell them my story. Look, this is what I had and this is what I gotta do. I don't have any problems leaving here and getting passes and going to work. That's stuff is behind me. I actually like who I am right now, you know, I LOVE me! It's pretty cool, I would hang out with me. If I met me on the street, I would hang out with me.

I actually like who I am right now, you know, I LOVE me! It's pretty cool, I would hang out with me. If I met me on the street, I would hang out with me.

AN: That's awesome. That must feel good to feel that way.

J: It does! You know, after going through 26 years of being a drug addict on methamphetamines, I was not a person. You know, I was more of a zombie than anything. So the person I've become now, is better. You know I haven't thought much about it. But every once in a while Ms. Maxey will go, remember this? Remember how you did this? And man I am a totally different person. TOTALLY different person.

AN: Even in the past seven months you would say?

J: Absolutely! The past seven months the VOA has given me, they were confident, I guess with their jobs, which showed me what confidence was. And they've given me confidence with getting me my ID and my birth certificate and constantly pushing me. And you know I go to STRIVE Indy and through them I've been to the Boys and Girls club to talk to the teenagers about prison and getting into trouble. It's been really good. The VOA has been good for me. I could have went home in May, you know on home confinement, yeah but I chose not to. Because, for one I needed to save a little money. And I went to STRIVE and got my forklift certification through them and all that. And it was all right here. And I made the decision. All these guys are trying to get out of here and go home, but me, I leave in November. And I'm ok with that.

AN: What have the staff said is the biggest change they've seen in you?

J: I would say my confidence. My confidence in myself. I'm very verbal now. I was always the kind of person who was like, ok if that's what you wanna do. Now it's like I don't mind saying, telling people what's wrong or what needs to happen. I try to give suggestions to the staff all the time. Sometimes passes get lost between floors, so I've given staff some suggestions. Gave me confidence to get in there and speak my mind. Ms Maxey is all about helping. Our food was really bad and Aramark wasn't doing what they were supposed to, but she stepped in and talked to them and now the food is great. I had some chili last night that was excellent. I'm trying to get my driver's license and she's been really supportive of that. I've got the bus system, it's great. My brother-in-law is going to buy me a car. And I've got a bike. It's determination.

AN: So how did you first get involved with STRIVE Indy?

J: Ms. Katrina Thomas had come down here for computer lab. So one day I went down there to set up an email address, because I didn't have one. And she was talking to someone else about the CDL program, and I asked her if there was a forklift program, and she said they have one. And I was like, alright! She had come in on her day off and did all the paperwork and everything to get me in there. All the people over there at STRIVE are my other angels. The people down there are great. I can make them all smile there. I love going down there, they're all great and we all cheer each other up and keep each other optimistic. They're good support people. It's really important. I've gotten so many guys to go down there from here – I tell them if you want to change your life, get a job, and train to do something these people will help you do it. I sell STRIVE Indy to these guys. Right now things are kind of crazy, but it's like, I'll be the first one to tell everyone to pull together. We're not in prison anymore but we still are, you know we still need passes and stuff to leave. But that's rules, that's laws, that's life. And if you can't live by them here then you won't be able to out there.

AN: So do you have plans for when you do leave?

J: I do. Me and my brother in law are talking about starting a business. We're thinking about power washing people's trash cans. I'm gonna keep my forklift job, and I'm gonna keep my other job at Maxine's Chicken and Waffles. I work seven days a week, and I have two jobs. For someone who came out here with nothing and was complaining and moping, now I have two great jobs. I have a few great friends, who I would actually pull for. I'm moving in with my friend so I can stay here in Indianapolis. Ms. Maxey has already asked me to come back and talk to people about VOA and its services, you know, be an advocate to the guys who are coming in and stuff and share my story. I don't like to brag or boast, but I've been successful. So if I can provide a vision for people about coming out of prison and show you what I've done then you can do it.

AN: Where do you see yourself in a year?

J: I see myself in a supervisor position, probably over fork lifting drivers. Or a warehouse supervisor or a foreman. I'm gonna stay in Indianapolis. I've seen my sister and her two boys in Anderson a few times. They love me and I love them. Being at the VOA, I've gained a lot more independence. I have a bank account! I've never had a bank account in my life. I have a life, the starting of a life. Come November when I can start moving around I can start building a life. I have a lot more confidence. And I want to keep being a positive role model for anyone at any age.

Comments about hate and anger:

When I went to the Boys and Girls Club I talked about hate and anger and how they relate to each other. It's helpful to talk about what they're angry about, because feeding into anger is a bad thing. It isn't helpful to be angry about being in prison because it wastes your energy. And it gives you less energy to be happy about things. You just can't be angry because it's wasteful.