Path from prison to workplace should be on employers’ radar

Sam Waltz
Founding Publisher

What will become of Delaware’s ex-offenders? That’s one of the biggest questions facing government and business over the next few years.

In the failed bid to lure Amazon’s second headquarters, Delaware last year bragged about the state’s bright, young workforce. But policymakers and business leaders should really focus on the potential workers cycling in and out of prison — some for lesser offenses, some for greater, too many for offenses as young adults — who are at the proverbial fork in the road.

Either they find the work, earn a livelihood, and begin to support themselves and their families, or their time outside the correctional system will be short.

Steve Anderson knows all about the vicious cycle of poverty and imprisonment. He spent much of his early years inside the Howard R. Young correctional facility, formerly known as Gander Hill.

“I was bankrupt in spirit,” he said recently in front of my church congregation. “I was smoking marijuana at 13, and I escalated it to PCP. I had 10 arrests and four incarcerations.”

Today, Steve Anderson is a chaplain for the Prison Outreach Ministry. He attended the Philadelphia Biblical University in 1998, before becoming a drug and alcohol counselor for the state’s work-release center at Prices Corner. Instead of letting the cycle continue, he found the Prison Outreach Ministry, which changed his life.“The real challenge is to replace the worship of drugs by those in trouble with the worship of God,” he said. “We all need something, and what we really need is God.”

(After hearing stories like that, it’s just incredible to me that the geniuses in the Delaware General Assembly think legalizing marijuana is a good idea just because Delaware could use the $20 million in new tax revenue. Decriminalization is the solution!)

Delaware is blessed with organizations, such as the Prison Outreach Ministry, that work hard to make a difference. Groups like Urban Promise, headed by Rob Prestowitz, provide social services to at-risk youth. The Sunday Breakfast Mission, headed by the Rev. Tom Laymon, provides an urban outpost for food, shelter
and the Gospel near the Amtrak station.

At a policy level, the Delaware Center for Justice, headed by Ashley Biden, does a great job.

Individuals are making a difference, too, many acting through other groups like the Rotary Clubs. My own Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Wilmington, does significant outreach with at-risk youth in Wilmington. The Caesar Rodney Rotary Club last week honored one of its own, Santora CPA Group marketing guru Bob Elder, for his work in the space over many years.

Even the late Olympian Frank Masley and his wife Donna took their company making Kevlar military gloves into the city to find employees.

If I could counsel my colleagues in business, it would be to urge them to recognize the importance of this mission as part of their social responsibility in the community, and to do something about it. Remember, when you hear about this, it’s not someone else’s problem.

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