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Columbus Recycle Program Hires Ex-Cons
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Ohio’s jobless rate dropped again last month. But, for ex-convicts that can provide little comfort.
A past crime most often means disqualification for a job. But there is one a fledgling operation in Columbus that helps ex-offenders find work that often changes their lives and helps them stay out of prison.
A perfect metaphor
When Executive Director of Recycle Force Columbus, Sarah Edwards, describes the non-profit’s mission she likes to use a metaphor.
“The image is that we as a community and as a culture have thrown away things that are actually very, very valuable. And we’ve not only done that with electronics and things that are filling up our landfills but we’ve done it with people too,” Edwards said.
Recycle Force Columbus converts donations of old or outdated computers, cell phones, televisions and other electronic equipment into reusable material.
At the same time, the ex-convict employees develop skills they can use in the workforce.
“So this is a chance to get the value not only out of electronics but to awaken the value that these citizens in their attempts to re-enter into our society this gives them a chance cause they’re at the bottom of the pile for employment,” Edwards continued.
‘I’m done with that life’
Twenty-two year old Jordan Muller starts dismantling a used computer by removing the outside case.
Muller estimates tear down takes only two or three minutes.
He says he was released on bond after being arrested for robbery and strung out on drugs. He had just celebrated his eighteenth birthday. Next, he was picked up while driving with a friend who had guns in the car.
He spent three years in the Lancaster Correctional Institution. He’s been employed at ReCycleForce Columbus for seven months.
“Makes me feel good. Like I’m done with that life, ya know. (I) work here… I’m healthy… I’m happy,” Muller explained.
Fifty-five year old Kevin Helmuth is happy too.
He worked in shipping and receiving at RecycleForce in the Indianapolis parent organization before coming to Columbus last September.
As operations manager for the local program he does mostly office work. He has also picked up some new skills.
“I’m driving a 26-foot, straight truck. You know, it does take some learning and it does take some skill to make sure that you’re safe. And normally if you’re a safe driver in regular life you’ll be a safe driver of a truck,” He said.
Helmuth had a 23-year career in the navy and spent 11 years as an industrial vocational high school teacher before he was sent to prison for what he calls a physical offense.
Helmuth also teaches people who are new to the program some of the soft skills needed for long-term employment.
“The idea of coming in on time, dressing appropriately, speaking appropriately, those things that tend to win customers are not things that are normal for a lot of people coming in. And so we try to give them those skills and also this concept of being trusted,” Helmuth said.
Trust is also big issue. A national survey indicates a majority of private employers for the majority of private employers would likely not hire a job applicant with a criminal record.
That fact is not lost on 41-year old Rodney J. who requested that his last name not be used. He does advertising and outreach for Recycle Force.
Rodney’s legal trouble involved delinquent child support payments. He spent a couple of days in jail but his situation still resulted in criminal charges. Rodney says his record makes getting a job difficult.
“Getting a job with a felony is one of the hardest things you can do. If you can actually get a job with a felony, hold on to it with everything you have,” he said.
Recycle-Force is mostly grant-funded. Backers of the program say it benefits the larger society. Ex-convicts who have a job pay rent, taxes and child support. They are also more likely to stay out of prison. Ohio prison officials say taxpayers spend $25-thousand a year to house just one inmate.