According to the Prison Policy Initiative, there are 26,000 men and women in prisons across Arkansas. Another 53,000 are on probation or parole. That’s more than the population of the entire city of Conway.
Tackling the increasing prison population is daunting, considering statistics show half of the men and women released from Arkansas prisons will return after committing another crime or violating the terms of his or her release. According to a proclamation by Governor Asa Hutchinson, the answer could partially lie in second chances.
For the third year, the Governor proclaimed April Second Chance Month.
“Every person is endowed with human dignity and value, and redemption is an American value,” the proclamation states.
“I never set out to be a serial bank robber or to be, you know, a professional criminal,” says Jeremy Evans.
Evans knows the value of second chances and redemption. After being laid off from work during the recession several years ago, he found himself in a financial crisis and desperate.
“All of my bills were going unpaid. And it got to the point where I came home one day and there was actually a letter on my front door that I was about to be evicted from my home,” Evans recalls. “I actually, just without any planning, I got in my car, drove to a sporting goods store. I bought a hat and some sunglasses, and I wrote a note out on a piece of paper… I drove north to the next state over and robbed a bank.”
By the time he was eventually caught, Evans held up more than a dozen banks. He spent 5 years in prison. He’d prepared for when he’d go home. Finding work, though, was more difficult than he’d thought.
“I had expected to face a lot of difficulties because of the fact that I was now a felon, an ex-con. I had all these horrible crimes on my background that everyone would see. I thought I was prepared for it, but I really wasn’t.”
In Governor Hutchinson’s proclamation, he urges “individuals, employers, congregations and communities to extend second chances to those re-entering society.”
The first 10, 15, 20 places that I went to looking for work after getting out, the response that I was received was pretty severe,” Evans said. “I literally had people telling me to get out of the office or they would call the police, and I was there dressed up in a suit and tie applying for a job. This is once I revealed what my conviction was for, and these were people who had said they were felon friendly, that encouraged me to come in – knowing I was living in a halfway house. Everybody looked at me like I was the worst person on earth.”
What Evans experienced is not unique. Oftentimes, people returning from prison find it difficult to find jobs, which leaves them without money. They are unable to find a landlord who will rent them a home or apartment, leaving them homeless. These circumstances all increase the likelihood a person will return to prison.
Knowing he had to find work to begin rebuilding his life, Jeremy joined one of Goodwill’s re-entry programs, LifeLaunch**. During the 16-week paid program, participants are provided life coaching and job training. Evans trained alongside Goodwill’s IT department.
“It wasn’t just the training programs that turned me on to Goodwill. It wasn’t just all the learning opportunities that I had that made it worthwhile to me. It was the attitudes that people had. When there was something that I needed – and when I first got out there was a lot that I needed. I didn’t have a dollar to my name. I had about three changes of clothes. I didn’t have a car. I didn’t have a phone, a driver’s license. I didn’t have a bank account. It was the people at Goodwill that helped me achieve all those things.”
Upon graduation, Evans was hired by Goodwill as a Career Specialist, and today is helping others find work, become more self-sufficient and provide for their families. It’s a job he credits to those who were willing to look beyond his past to see his talents and the man he is today.
“A lot of the people here don’t realize the effect that they have on the mission trainees – all the people here [at Goodwill] that are receiving services. Every single person at Goodwill that treats them with respect and dignity is providing an amazing service.”
**The Goodwill® Adult LifeLaunch Reintegration Program is made possible with a national grant award of $4.5 million, covering 74 percent of costs, from the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration. Twenty-six percent of the Goodwill Adult LifeLaunch Reintegration Program activities and services will be supported with $1.6million in leveraged resources.