BALTIMORE – Roderick McFadden, who was jailed in December 1999 on drug charges, came to the job fair at the Eastside Career Center looking for “anything” Wednesday. Anything that will keep him employed and off the streets, that is.
“Guys get out (of prison) and basically they are pushed back on the street” by the lack of housing and employment, McFadden said.
He was one of about 95 prison inmates and former inmates who dressed in their finest Wednesday for interviews with more than a dozen employers at a job fair organized by Baltimore’s Office of Employment and Development, the state Department of Education and the Division of Correction.
The inmates came from a variety of backgrounds and were convicted of a variety of crimes — although state officials stressed that there were no rapists or child abusers. They were brought in from institutions across the state, were within 90 days of release and were all in “pre-release” facilities, which is the lowest level of security, officials said.
And all said that they are eager for work.
“A lot of these people here have expressed a desire to work on a regular basis,” which is one of the main things that the temporary industry lacks, said Paul Simmons of Manpower Inc.
Simmons said he had not met anyone at Wednesday’s job fair who he could hire right away — his two main Hunt Valley clients will not hire anyone with a misdemeanor within two years or a felony within five years. But he also noted that he has about 500 employees at those two companies and that about 60 percent of them have some sort of record in their pasts.
“It is a good opportunity for us, hopefully a good opportunity for a lot of these people,” Simmons said of the fair.
George Farmer, 47, was looking for any type of opportunity.
“I’m looking for employment, bottom line,” said Farmer, who was jailed for armed robbery in 1991 and has been at the Baltimore Pre-release Unit since June.
Farmer is hoping that four years of college study through the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, along with his background as a welder and meat cutter and other training he received in prison, will help him find a job. But, as someone with a criminal record looking for a job, he is aware of the difficulties he may face.
“I paid for my crime, but in society sometimes you still have to pay more,” Farmer said.
Edward West, chairman of the work release task force, said the interest of some of the larger companies involved in the program is “getting a person who is going to be there on time, be consistent in their work habits.” Employers may also qualify for tax credits of up to $6,000 and federal bonding to protect them against employee-related loss, West said.
“You would be surprised how (for) many small businesses, their business depends on the work-release program,” he said.
West said that just over half of the 29 inmates from the morning session were not hired. But about one-quarter were offered jobs, he said, and one roofing company at the job fair told him by early afternoon that it had interviewed 19 people it wanted to hire.
McFadden said he had no magic formula to getting past an employer’s reluctance to hire someone with a record.
“Just ask them for a chance,” he said. “You have to tell them that that (crime) was in the past. That person is no longer here.”