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Problems With Prisoner Reentry

On Friday, January 5, 2013, I attended a meeting with six other people on the Board of Supervisors office in Stockton. The meeting stemmed from efforts others are making with me to help people with criminal, or at-risk backgrounds transition into law-abiding, contributing citizens. Before I memorialize the meeting, this lengthy post will provide background on a few of the principal people who have been involved in the development of this project. Then I’ll explain a number of the reasons why I believe it is sensible for corporate citizens to work together with municipalities for this purpose. Finally, I’ll explain for readers my perception of our Friday meeting and I’ll explain why I walked away feeling so frustrated.

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Reentry Project Development
This proposed reentry project began with a conversation I had with Lee Nobmann. Lee Nobmann is the founding father of Golden State Lumber. He’s also a detailed friend, mentor, and employer of mine. Through Golden State Lumber and subsidiary businesses that Lee owns, he is certainly one of California’s largest private employers, with several hundred people on his payroll.

Golden State Lumber dominates lumber sales within the state of California, controlling greater than 40 percent of Northern California’s market share. It operates lumberyards in several Bay area locations, including a state-of-the-art, 70-acre plant in Stockton. In the course of the height of the housing boom, Golden State Lumber’s Stockton yard alone employed more than 250 people. Jobs that I’ve observed in Stockton include the next: lumber handler, forklift driver, sawmill operator, assembly line workers, truck driver, diesel mechanics, train drivers, dispatchers, retail sales, outside lumber sales, logistics, and all forms of clerical or administrative workers. Few companies in Stockton employ a more diverse group of people than Golden State Lumber.

I have a novel job at Golden State Lumber, providing personal coaching services to Lee Nobmann. Each morning, seven days a week, we spend greater than two hours together. He compensates me well for the privilege of discussing business ideas with him while we exercise alongside one another. According to Lee, our discussions each morning bring him more clarity and drive black wig for kids his purpose, which is why we meet day by day. Throughout the five months that we’ve worked together, our morning discussions have led Lee to bring deals together which have cumulative valuations measured in the tens of millions of dollars.

During one among our morning discussions, Lee asked why so few people emerged from prison with the kind of skillset that will make them attractive to employers. That question led to an extended discussion in regards to the complexities of imprisonment, however it fed into an even longer discussion about challenges offenders faced after they emerged from prison. One problem, I explained, was that individuals with felony records have a hard time making it past the human resources department at many large employers, including Golden State Lumber and its subsidiary companies.

The more we spoke, the more engaged Lee became. He knew that I had developed The Straight-A Guide, a values-based, goal-oriented program that showed others learn how to pursue the identical type of strategies I used to beat the challenges of a quarter century in prison, all the while preparing for a law-abiding, contributing life. Actually, it was Lee’s mentorship that inspired me to put in writing The Straight-A Guide, and i used it as a tool to indicate other prisoners how they might pursue a self-directed path to arrange for achievement upon release. With help from Justin Paperny and the Michael G. Santos Foundation, we spread that message to greater than 100 people throughout America’s prison system. Those participants are working to document their commitment to develop the kinds of values and skills that employers appreciate. One participant, Tracy Taylor, wrote about how his work through the Straight-A Guide inspired him to vary his life while he climbed through a multi-decade sentence.

Lee asked whether I could modify the Straight-A Guide to train people who’ve been released from prison. He wanted to know whether the values-based, goal-oriented Straight-A Guide learning system could help offenders understand and develop the type of work ethic that he expected from those who his company employed.

“Of course,” I explained. “The Straight-A Guide is just a teaching mechanism. It helps me show others the right way to make principled, deliberate decisions, and how those decisions result in success as the person defines it. It’s part of my how-do-you-define success course, and I exploit The Straight-A Guide to coach anyone, from CEOs to prisoners.”

Lee told me that if I could train people who’ve been released from prison on the principles of the Straight-A Guide, he would change the corporate employment policy in his company and open employment opportunities for individuals who graduated from the program.

After speaking with Lee, I contacted Justin Paperny. Justin serves because the executive director of The Michael G. Santos Foundation(MGSF). Over the course of its existence, I have collaborated with Justin to lift financial resources that would allow the MGSF to spread the Straight-A Guide program to prisoners with none charge to them. Grants I wrote have generated more than $270,000 in funding for MGSF from The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF) and other sources.

I asked Justin to speak with Julio Marcial, his contact at TCWF to inquire whether that philanthropy would have an interest in funding a project to provide Straight-A Guide job training for people with at-risk or criminal backgrounds. Julio was enthusiastic about the prospect. As a director of TCWF, he has a real passion for transforming the lives of at-risk youth, and he immediately recognized the value of obtaining support from Lee Nobmann, one in every of California’s largest private employers.

Further discussions with Lee led us to settle on Stockton as the appropriate city to launch this program. Stockton had a significant problem with at-risk youth and lots of felons lived in the community. The city had recently filed for bankruptcy, and it needed some type of program that will open employment opportunities. Lee agreed to run a test program, saying that if I could generate resources to supply Straight-A Guide training, he would make an investment to expand the workforce in Stockton and employ those that graduated for the Straight-A Guide courses we taught. Julio and Justin then visited the Stockton yard last December. Upon touring the power, they both became enthusiastic about developing this project further.

In an effort to share the vision with government leaders, I reached out to Councilman-elect Michael Tubbs. He is a dynamic young leader who recently won an election with greater than 60 percent of the vote for city council. From some research I did on Michael Tubbs, I expected that if I could persuade him to become a champion of our project, we could go a great distance toward receiving buy in from other municipal leaders in town of Stockton and the county of San Joaquin. Michael had grown up as an at-risk youth in Stockton, but he overcame enormous challenges to earn a full scholarship to Stanford University, graduating in 2012 with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. He was the kind of leader who would understand the value we were proposing.

On the day after Christmas, I drove over to fulfill Councilman Tubbs on the Golden State Lumber plant in Stockton. The manager took us on a tour of the impressive facility, showing the various job opportunities we could create there. Councilman Tubbs immediately recognized that it can be an exquisite opportunity if we could pull this together, and he agreed to speak with his counterparts in government to inquire whether we could receive funding to pay for the training.

The public-Private Reentry Collaboration Effort
The time seemed right to start this collaborative effort to initiate a public-private reentry project. In any case, in early 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling that required the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to scale back its prison population by tens of thousands, and it ordered the state to make those reductions within two years, by the spring of 2013.

In response to that Supreme Court ruling, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 109, legislation that became referred to as “Realignment.” According to an extensive report that Stanford University’s Law School published, the purpose of AB 109 was to shift more than $5 billion in state resources to local communities for the purpose of reducing the California prison system, providing job-training and reentry services that might help more offenders emerge as law-abiding citizens. Each county was imagined to deploy AB 109 funds to implement new and innovative programs specifically designed to lower incarceration and recidivism rates.

It wasn’t the first time California lawmakers would provide funding to cover the prices of job training and employment programs for people with criminal backgrounds. In any case, there have been enormous costs related to our nation’s commitment to mass incarceration. In the fiscal year 2008-2009, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office published a report showing that taxpayers spent a mean of greater than $47,000 to confine a single offender for one year. Those costs have risen because the report was published.

The state has a history of authorizing payments to counties for the purpose of lowering the high costs of confinement by investing in programs that will help offenders live as productive citizens. In 1966, for instance, lawmakers approved the California Probation Subsidy Act to encourage counties to assume the responsibility of preparing offenders for law-abiding, contributing lives. That legislative act subsidized counties for their expenditures of job training; the Stanford report mentioned above indicated that the Probation Subsidy Act authorized state payments of $4,000 per felon for each person sentenced to probation instead of prison.

More recently, in October of 2009, the governor of California signed legislation SB 678 “for the aim of reducing parolee recidivism.” When leaders documented that fewer people on probation of their counties were sent back to prison than the statewide average, the counties became eligible for top-performance grants. In an effort to win those grants, probation offices across the state began training their officers in concepts comparable to motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy, and offering rehabilitation services to probationers. Savings from such programs amounted to $179 million in 2010 alone.

The new legislative bill often called Realignment, or AB 109, gave counties an unprecedented amount of discretion with regard to how they deployed their funding allocation to organize offenders for law-abiding, contributing lives. In the fiscal year ending 2013 and 2014, AB 109 funding would make $1 billion available to counties for the purpose of reducing recidivism. With Councilman Tubbs’ support, I hoped to influence other government officials that we could contribute by offering training that may lead to immediate job placement with Golden State Lumber. If the city of Stockton and county of San Joaquin would match Lee Nobmann’s commitment to building this program by funding the training component, I might teach the Straight-A Guide to offenders and help place them in jobs.

Although I understood that other entities would compete for those funds, I expected city and county leaders in Stockton would join Councilman Tubbs in recognizing the compelling model that we were presenting. In any case, I’m a man who emerged from prison after a quarter century with academic credentials and employment opportunities awaiting me. Didn’t taxpayers want prisoners to return to society with similar levels of stability Since I earned my place while traversing a quarter century, participants within the Straight-A Guide program would find hope in the message. In addition, the participants would have hope in that they’d qualify for immediate employment with Golden State Lumber, enabling them to start earning a gradual paycheck and building a career. I expected government leaders to need to align with the combined strengths of job training and employment opportunities.

Friday Meeting:
So as to advance this reentry project, Councilman Tubbs coordinated a meeting with several municipal leaders whose buy in could be necessary. Lee agreed to join me and we flew to Stockton with expectations of receiving support. We met in a conference room reserved for the board of supervisors at the county building, and after introductions, the man who chaired the meeting asked Lee whether he intended to hire people who had felony convictions. Lee didn’t hesitate, offering to rent people if I trained them through the Straight-A Guide.

I then told the story of my 25-year journey through prison, concluding with descriptions of how I built a curriculum around the Straight-A Guide. I showed the different books I wrote that were part of the program, beginning with Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45-Year Prison Term and concluding with the Straight-A Guide workbook. I spoke in regards to the 100 people confined in prisons across America who were enrolled in this system now, and i spoke about five people with felony backgrounds that Lee already hired. I told the group how I used to be coaching them through the Straight-A Guide now.

Following my presentation, Lee spoke about Golden State Lumber’s operations in Stockton. He told the group that his human resources department had a policy of not hiring felons, but that he believed within the Straight-A Guide program and that he had backed that belief up by overriding HR policies to hire the five those that I was currently training. If local governments would offer funding for added training services, Lee agreed to put more people with felony records to work.

Being ignorant of government processes and policies, I expected the federal government leaders to recognize the worth of what we were offering. One of many city’s most successful business owners had taken the time to fly over at his expense. Lee’s only purpose in visiting Stockton was to meet with the municipal leaders for the particular purpose of initiating a program that will employ people with criminal records. The people’s histories of problems with the criminal justice system meant that those people currently could not make it past screening by the company’s human resources department, and it was likely that other large companies had similar corporate policies that precluded them from hiring people with felony records. Yet Lee was willing to make a mid six-figure corporate investment that would result in the hiring of a dozen people immediately, and open employment opportunities for many more people in the months ahead. The extent of coaching that I could provide would be contingent on the amount of support the local government would extend.

To advance the project, I expected the government leaders to ask a simple question after they heard of Lee’s credentials, his personal investment in Stockton, and his willingness to hire people with felony convictions: What can we do that will help you bring this project to Stockton After all, the state vested the county leaders with substantial financial resources. The government officials also had unprecedented discretion to make use of those funds specifically for the purpose of reducing population levels in the California prison system and for training offenders for employment opportunities.

Yet rather than seizing upon the opportunity to secure an agreement from a significant private employer who expressed a willingness to change the hiring policies of companies he owned, invest substantial resources to open new employment opportunities, and hire people immediately, the government leaders largely ignored Lee’s influence. Instead, they proceeded to coach us on the slow-moving technique of government, on the organizations with whom they’d existing relationships, and steps that I should take to switch The Straight-A Guide in order that, in years to come, it could qualify for funding from different government agencies. Without having done more research than fanning through pages of the six-book curriculum of the Straight-A Guide, one among the government leaders concluded with a suggestion that I should incorporate roleplaying into the Straight-A Guide training program.

Although the government officials certainly thought they were being supportive, the meeting frustrated both Lee and me. Even Councilman Tubbs expressed frustration that we couldn’t change the course of the discussion to consider steps that could be available to release immediate funds for the aim of job training. One of the best we could hope for was to partner with an existing nonprofit, or submit applications that might qualify us for funding later, however the funding being discussed would not be sufficient to develop the type of comprehensive job-training program we envisioned.

As a consequence of the meeting, Lee lost all interest in developing the reentry program further. His lumber division in Stockton generated greater than $1 million in revenues every week, and Lee wasn’t going to disrupt current practices, change corporate policies, and make the required investment to hire scores of people with felony backgrounds if government officials weren’t willing to match his level of commitment. Lee was not able where he needed to submit proposals and watch for the opportunity of a trickle of government funding to return forth. He was in a position to rent a dozen people tomorrow and put scores of recent people to work over the coming year. Since the federal government leaders in the room had a real interest in adhering to the processes in place, we lost a chance to place felons to work.

Going Forward
Friday’s meeting put me at a crossroads. Lee Nobmann is my employer and I need to focus my attention on projects that he directs. We’re now discussing whether it makes sense for me to devote attention to developing training programs around the Straight-A Guide and lessons I learned while traversing a quarter century in prison. I’m nearly 49-years old and that i need to construct a sustainable career, one that can allow me to support my family.

Without time or resources to work fulltime on this reentry project, I’m frustrated. I’m now assessing whether I can afford to devote significant energy toward writing and teaching the strategies that empowered me through a quarter century in prison, or whether I have to pursue an unrelated career with the intention to earn a living.

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