Returning Citizen Stories – Overcoming Barriers To Employment

Access to employment is a top priority for returning citizens working to reintegrate into the community after incarceration or community supervision. A job provides the resources to pay for food, housing and a future. 

Unfortunately, barriers exist for returning citizens when it comes to accessing jobs and meaningful work in the marketplace. Here in the state of Florida, simply having a criminal record reduces job offers by at least 50% on average. Also, 1 in 4 jobs in the state require a valid employment license, something that can be denied simply for having a past felony conviction.  Yet Florida continues to impose over 300 restrictions on Returning Citizens who wish to obtain occupational licensing or certifications needed to apply for various positions. For many, these stipulations only serve as another obstacle waiting to be overcome.

 

Marquis

Selected by Elisa

“I wanted to go to be a registered nurse but because of my charge, I couldn’t participate in the program.”
– Marquis Mckenzie, Dirt Master LLC

Born in the Sunshine State, Marquis was directly filed as an adult though he was a teen in his youth. Upon his release, Marquis sought to turn his life around and worked very hard over the years to establish himself as a leader within the local community. Now serving as the Central Florida Regional Canvasser for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, he paves the way as an inspiration to many near and afar. Though, this did not come without its fair share of trials.

Having a criminal record introduces an adjustment to the lifestyle and opportunities presented in an individual’s life. Shifting priorities, job outlook, and educational aspirations are only but a few. While enabling job licensing opportunities would serve to enrich the economy, encourage a safer, more hopeful re-entry, and strengthen local communities, it remains unattainable for many – including Marquis. 

“I wanted to go to be a registered nurse but because of my charge, I couldn’t participate in the program,” Marquis said, outlining how his inability to get a license tangibly impacted his ability to move forward in his life, and support his family. 

Marquis is not alone.

Florida remains among the states that uphold these adages of eras past. Presently, with the help of Marquis and organizations like the FRRC and the Florida Policy Institute, people will continue to rise and pave the way for positive change in the lives of over 1.4 million men and women in Florida with past felony convictions.

 

Coral

“I am unafraid and unashamed to tell my story and to tell where I’ve come from and how hard I had to work to get where I am.”
– Coral, Empower To Change

‘I will see to it that this follows you for the rest of your life and ruins you for the rest of your life.’

That’s what Coral Nichols of Seminole, Florida says a judge told her when she was convicted of a felony at the age of 23. In some ways, he was right. Coral struggled to find a job while on probation after getting out of prison.

“Part of probation is to be gainfully employed,” Coral said. “But every door gets slammed in your face because you have to report that you have a felony conviction.”

The judge wasn’t the only one making predictions about Coral’s future.

“On my way out of prison, they said they would see me again,” Coral said.

That prediction was one she would dedicate her life to proving wrong.

“They certainly didn’t help me transition back into society. And so I decided to get an education, and I decided to make a difference,” Coral said. “I just decided that they were not going to see me again unless I was going in and helping somebody, somehow, some way.”

Now, Coral works with an organization she helped found called Empower to Change that assists Floridians in diversion programs to help them deal with the challenges of the criminal justice system. She says the work she does with directly impacted people every day inspires her to keep fighting for an end to the disenfranchisement and discrimination returning citizens still face.

“When you look at the whole gamut of the criminal justice system that needs to be changed, we are the professionals in our field,” Coral said. “We are the people that should be sitting at the table. We know what it’s like from the inside out, we know how hard it is to change our lives.”

Coral thinks her story of hard work and redemption is echoed by many returning citizens.

“I am unafraid and unashamed to tell my story and to tell where I’ve come from and how hard I had to work to get where I am. There are lots of people that change their lives. I am no exception to the rule, and if I’m determined, then so are so many other people.”

 

 

James

“I put out an application after application…they told me the best of luck with my future endeavors and to call back in five to seven years.”
– James, FRRC Chapter Member

Systematic laws put into place during the Jim Crow era have successfully disenfranchised the Returning Citizen community. In Florida, this bias is most prevalent in the form of multiple barriers that hinder formerly incarcerated and convicted individuals from being able to participate in democracy, obtain desirable careers, and live freely where they choose.

James, who is now 30 had a run in with the law that ended up costing him over 6 years of his life. After serving his time he was faced with the all to familiar barrier presented before the returning citizen community. Finding a job.

It has been a struggle. James currently spends his time at Kaleos Ministries in Orlando, FL. A powerful advocate with a testimony that he uses to inform others of the dangers of making certain decisions. He is not alone. Over 1.4 million Returning Citizens join him in the fight for a true inclusive democracy. For many, their reality is the same. Feeling uncared for and neglected numerous persons within the returning citizen community fail to reintegrate into society due to a multitude of factors. 

Among these factors, job licensing is one of the most important issues facing Returning Citizens right now, as the prospect of an enjoyable career brings forth the ability to provide sustenance to yourself and your loved ones. Without these opportunities, Florida’s disenfranchised community continues to suffer. Some may rise above these challenges, but not all are so fortunate to come to the same conclusion. Many returning citizens don’t have the support systems needed to get back on their feet or even worse are surmounted to paying substantial fines and fees by working jobs that provide unsatisfactory wages. 

The road to reform is a long one, and well traveled. The struggle binds Florida’s returning citizen community together. While James and others just like him fight for fair opportunities to move ahead, organizations such as the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition come alongside them to positively impact the criminal justice system and create better opportunities for people. Though the fight is long from over, James can rest assured knowing that he is not alone, and that his fight might help people like him in the future have better access to jobs, housing and opportunity.  

 

Lance

It was easier to start my OWN business than to work for someone.”
– Lance, Lightmark Aerial

For many individuals seeking to make their way back into society post-conviction, the path is unclear and difficult to maneuver. Lance, 41, encountered many of the familiar obstacles faced by Florida’s Returning Citizen community. After serving his time incarcerated, Lance went on to involve himself in his community and advocate for criminal justice reform as well as policy change. Now, a proud member of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, he spends his time working to impact the lives of over 1.4 million people in the Sunshine state.  

Lance is also a small business owner. But that wasn’t always the plan. After working in the restaurant industry post-incarceration, Lance began to look for work that would be a better fit for him long term. Unfortunately, he struggled to make progress, in part because of the challenge to get a job license in a new field. 

“It was easier to start my own business than to work for someone else,” said Lance.

 Founder of Lightmark Aerial, Lance recalls the familiar obstacle of job licensing in Florida. For many, this leads ambitious Returning Citizens to dive into a realm of entrepreneurship. Such is the case here and for thousands of other business leaders in the Returning Citizen community.  These barriers successfully discourage individuals impacted by the criminal justice system from attempting to obtain manageable wages and pursuing desirable careers. Ultimately, forcing many Returning Citizens to turn to the streets for shelter, food and housing.

However, work is being done behind the scenes and at the forefront of our democracy to effectively implement substantial change in the criminal justice system. Organizations like the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition led by Executive Director Desmond Meade have helped to pave the way for a renewed understanding of what it means to be a Returning Citizen. With the passage of Amendment 4 in 2018 over 1.4 million men and women now have access to go out and vote. While much work still needs to be done, it is done in stride as we mark the beginning of a new era, where hope and opportunity are driving us to improve our workforce rules so returning citizens can access employment opportunities like anyone else.

 

 

Returning Citizen Stories – Overcoming Barriers To Employment

Access to employment is a top priority for returning citizens working to reintegrate into the community after incarceration or community supervision. A job provides the resources to pay for food, housing and a future. 

Unfortunately, barriers exist for returning citizens when it comes to accessing jobs and meaningful work in the marketplace. Here in the state of Florida, simply having a criminal record reduces job offers by at least 50% on average. Also, 1 in 4 jobs in the state require a valid employment license, something that can be denied simply for having a past felony conviction.  Yet Florida continues to impose over 300 restrictions on Returning Citizens who wish to obtain occupational licensing or certifications needed to apply for various positions. For many, these stipulations only serve as another obstacle waiting to be overcome.

 

Marquis

Among these determined individuals is Marquis. Born in the Sunshine State, Marquis was directly filed as an adult though he was a teen in his youth. Upon his release, Marquis sought to turn his life around and worked very hard over the years to establish himself as a leader within the local community. Now serving as the Central Florida Regional Canvasser for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, he paves the way as an inspiration to many near and afar. Though, this did not come without its fair share of trials.

Having a criminal record introduces an adjustment to the lifestyle and opportunities presented in an individual’s life. Shifting priorities, job outlook, and educational aspirations are only but a few. While enabling job licensing opportunities would serve to enrich the economy, encourage a safer, more hopeful re-entry, and strengthen local communities, it remains unattainable for many – including Marquis. 

“I wanted to go to be a registered nurse but because of my charge, I couldn’t participate in the program,” Marquis said, outlining how his inability to get a license tangibly impacted his ability to move forward in his life, and support his family. 

Marquis is not alone.

Florida remains among the states that uphold these adages of eras past. Presently, with the help of Marquis and organizations like the FRRC and the Florida Policy Institute, people will continue to rise and pave the way for positive change in the lives of over 1.4 million men and women in Florida with past felony convictions.

 

Selected by Elisa

“I wanted to go to be a registered nurse but because of my charge, I couldn’t participate in the program.”
– Marquis Mckenzie, Dirt Master LLC

“I am unafraid and unashamed to tell my story and to tell where I’ve come from and how hard I had to work to get where I am.”
– Coral, Empower To Change

Coral

‘I will see to it that this follows you for the rest of your life and ruins you for the rest of your life.’

That’s what Coral Nichols of Seminole, Florida says a judge told her when she was convicted of a felony at the age of 23. In some ways, he was right. Coral struggled to find a job while on probation after getting out of prison.

“Part of probation is to be gainfully employed,” Coral said. “But every door gets slammed in your face because you have to report that you have a felony conviction.”

The judge wasn’t the only one making predictions about Coral’s future.

“On my way out of prison, they said they would see me again,” Coral said.

That prediction was one she would dedicate her life to proving wrong.

“They certainly didn’t help me transition back into society. And so I decided to get an education, and I decided to make a difference,” Coral said. “I just decided that they were not going to see me again unless I was going in and helping somebody, somehow, some way.”

Now, Coral works with an organization she helped found called Empower to Change that assists Floridians in diversion programs to help them deal with the challenges of the criminal justice system. She says the work she does with directly impacted people every day inspires her to keep fighting for an end to the disenfranchisement and discrimination returning citizens still face.

“When you look at the whole gamut of the criminal justice system that needs to be changed, we are the professionals in our field,” Coral said. “We are the people that should be sitting at the table. We know what it’s like from the inside out, we know how hard it is to change our lives.”

Coral thinks her story of hard work and redemption is echoed by many returning citizens.

“I am unafraid and unashamed to tell my story and to tell where I’ve come from and how hard I had to work to get where I am. There are lots of people that change their lives. I am no exception to the rule, and if I’m determined, then so are so many other people.”

 

 

James

Systematic laws put into place during the Jim Crow era have successfully disenfranchised the Returning Citizen community. In Florida, this bias is most prevalent in the form of multiple barriers that hinder formerly incarcerated and convicted individuals from being able to participate in democracy, obtain desirable careers, and live freely where they choose.

James, who is now 30 had a run in with the law that ended up costing him over 6 years of his life. After serving his time he was faced with the all to familiar barrier presented before the returning citizen community. Finding a job.

It has been a struggle. James currently spends his time at Kaleos Ministries in Orlando, FL. A powerful advocate with a testimony that he uses to inform others of the dangers of making certain decisions. He is not alone. Over 1.4 million Returning Citizens join him in the fight for a true inclusive democracy. For many, their reality is the same. Feeling uncared for and neglected numerous persons within the returning citizen community fail to reintegrate into society due to a multitude of factors. 

Among these factors, job licensing is one of the most important issues facing Returning Citizens right now, as the prospect of an enjoyable career brings forth the ability to provide sustenance to yourself and your loved ones. Without these opportunities, Florida’s disenfranchised community continues to suffer. Some may rise above these challenges, but not all are so fortunate to come to the same conclusion. Many returning citizens don’t have the support systems needed to get back on their feet or even worse are surmounted to paying substantial fines and fees by working jobs that provide unsatisfactory wages. 

The road to reform is a long one, and well traveled. The struggle binds Florida’s returning citizen community together. While James and others just like him fight for fair opportunities to move ahead, organizations such as the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition come alongside them to positively impact the criminal justice system and create better opportunities for people. Though the fight is long from over, James can rest assured knowing that he is not alone, and that his fight might help people like him in the future have better access to jobs, housing and opportunity.  

 

“I put out an application after application…they told me the best of luck with my future endeavors and to call back in five to seven years.”
– James, FRRC Chapter Member

It was easier to start my OWN business than to work for someone.”
– Lance, Lightmark Aerial

Lance

For many individuals seeking to make their way back into society post-conviction, the path is unclear and difficult to maneuver. Lance, 41, encountered many of the familiar obstacles faced by Florida’s Returning Citizen community. After serving his time incarcerated, Lance went on to involve himself in his community and advocate for criminal justice reform as well as policy change. Now, a proud member of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, he spends his time working to impact the lives of over 1.4 million people in the Sunshine state.  

Lance is also a small business owner. But that wasn’t always the plan. After working in the restaurant industry post-incarceration, Lance began to look for work that would be a better fit for him long term. Unfortunately, he struggled to make progress, in part because of the challenge to get a job license in a new field. 

“It was easier to start my own business than to work for someone else,” said Lance.

 Founder of Lightmark Aerial, Lance recalls the familiar obstacle of job licensing in Florida. For many, this leads ambitious Returning Citizens to dive into a realm of entrepreneurship. Such is the case here and for thousands of other business leaders in the Returning Citizen community.  These barriers successfully discourage individuals impacted by the criminal justice system from attempting to obtain manageable wages and pursuing desirable careers. Ultimately, forcing many Returning Citizens to turn to the streets for shelter, food and housing.

However, work is being done behind the scenes and at the forefront of our democracy to effectively implement substantial change in the criminal justice system. Organizations like the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition led by Executive Director Desmond Meade have helped to pave the way for a renewed understanding of what it means to be a Returning Citizen. With the passage of Amendment 4 in 2018 over 1.4 million men and women now have access to go out and vote. While much work still needs to be done, it is done in stride as we mark the beginning of a new era, where hope and opportunity are driving us to improve our workforce rules so returning citizens can access employment opportunities like anyone else.