Euphemisms may not pay the rent. But, then again, they can’t hurt. At least, that seemed to be the thinking on Tuesday morning as Mayor Nutter addressed a few thousand ex-offenders at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Nutter doesn’t say “ex-offender,” he explained; he prefers the term “returning citizen.”
Call them what you will: Returning citizens represent an estimated one in five Philadelphians. Yet, in May, the city was caught off-guard when a job fair for that citizen class drew 3,000 job-seekers, way beyond the event’s capacity. They shut the whole thing down and promised to put together another event, one that would be bigger and better (or at least better planned). By 8:30 a.m., around 3,200 prospective employees had preregistered for the replacement Ex-Offender Expo, according to LaMonte Williams of the Mayor’s Office of Re-Integration Services for Ex-Offenders (RISE), and hundreds more were lining up for on-site registration. The event included job-interview training, an expungement clinic and an expo with 100 employers.
Compared to some returning citizens, Isaac Fullman, 31, is in good shape. He’s never been to prison and his record includes only a misdemeanor. But he was laid off from his job eight months ago, and has been looking ever since. As to what’s standing in his way, he says, “I believe it’s the economy more than anything.” But he has applied for a pardon to remove the misdemeanor from his record. That process goes through the state Board of Pardons in Harrisburg. His estimated wait time? Four and a half years. Fullman hopes to find a new job, as a cook or general laborer, long before then.
Everett Gillison, the mayor’s chief of staff, says the first returning-citizens job fair, five years ago, drew 200 candidates and placed 25 in jobs. Now, the city is working on a much larger scale. In fact, says Williams, other municipalities have been calling RISE with questions: “The whole country is looking on to see how this goes today.”
Williams was hired six months ago as the junior man in RISE’s two-person career-development team, which places more than 500 people in jobs each year. They cultivate relationships with employers who may be attracted by the tax breaks and fidelity bonds that come with hiring returning citizens — and then come to realize that this class of employees has a lot to offer. “They’re finding their turnover rates decrease,” Williams says. “They’re finding these individuals are very prompt, reliable. They have a need to succeed more than someone walking in off the street.”
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