Jamaal Smith only had $137 and the clothes on his back when he walked out of the gates of the Oklahoma State Reformatory in mid-2013. After 10 years behind bars on drug charges, he felt like he had very few resources to get his life back on track.
“It's too much,” said Smith, 33. “When you've got too much time on your hands in there, no skills to brush up on to at least be somewhat prepared, it's a crippling effect to a lot of men and women.”
Thursday, the Center for Employment Opportunities, a national organization that helps people with criminal records find jobs, announced the opening of an office in Oklahoma City to help former inmates like Smith find and maintain employment.
Newly released offenders are allowed to walk away from prison with any money they had saved from performing a job while incarcerated, but many leave their institution with the minimum $50 provided by the state Corrections Department and a bus ticket to the county of their conviction.
Smith said he received little to no counsel on how to reintegrate into society. Skills like creating a resume and how to properly interview for a job seemed well out of his reach.
Smith now works as a prep cook and baker at an Oklahoma City cafeteria.
Former inmates don't just need help with these kinds of skills, they need help getting their foot in the door in the first place, said Kelly Doyle, state director of the Center for Employment Opportunities in Oklahoma.
“Third-party background checks have become pretty much the staple. Even fast food restaurants like McDonalds are doing background checks,” Doyle said.