Job fair offers hope to EBR inmates in face of release

About 60 men and women, all within six months of getting out, filed into the gym at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Tuesday morning, looking for that first post-prison job.

Kinny Dyer, scheduled for release in June after a year in jail, walked from booth to booth talking to potential employers. He said he especially enjoyed talking to a representative of a personal finance company called The Money Doctor and would love to eventually start his own business.

He was psyching himself up for the uncertainty to come.

“I know when I go out the door, and if I get a chance, I know I can do it,” Dyer said.

Tuesday’s small job fair was the first such fair in modern memory at the Parish Prison. Job fairs are regular features at state prisons in Louisiana but not so common at parish prisons.

James Windom, executive director of the Capital Area ReEntry Coalition, a mentoring group for those in prison trying to re-enter society, said he’s been working for two years to bring a job fair to Parish Prison, which has a mix of people awaiting trial and those serving sentences.

“Fifty percent of those in prison are in their local prison,” Windom said. “If that’s where your people are, it behooves you to have services here, too.”

Warden Dennis Grimes said having a job can make a big difference.

“If they don’t have something stable they can land in, then they’ll return to what they know best, and that’s crime,” Grimes said.

Grimes said violent offenders were not eligible to participate in the job fair. He said he’s planning to hold another job fair at the prison next year.

Twenty-four groups showed up for the fair. Most of them employers but some offering community services.

Patricia Harrel, executive director of Mirror of Grace Outreach, handed out brochures for free computer classes. Knowing your way around a computer is very important, she said, even just to find a job.

“You don’t do this anymore,” Harrel said, looking at the booths filled with job seekers. “Everything is online.”

Turner Industries was among the busiest booths on Tuesday. Wayne Tyson, a Turner representative, said he’s hired folks he met at other prison job fairs and a few have become veteran employees.

“They made a poor decision, and they are getting a second chance,” Tyson said.

“I’d be happy to have a job, period,” said Danielle Haydel, who is getting out of jail in three weeks.

She’s looking at getting trained to do pipefitting work and to become an electrician. She said she knows how to paint, but didn’t see any painting companies there.

Some of the employers Tuesday had been behind bars themselves.

“For me being locked up in jail was the best that could have happened to me,” said Russell Davis. “It gave me time to think.”

It wasn’t until his time in jail that he was finally able to get clean and stop using crack cocaine. After getting out, he started an air-conditioning and refrigerator repair business in Baton Rouge called Accu-Temps. It now has 15 employees including a handful of people like Davis who had either spent time in jail or were substance abusers.

He loves the work, despite it being sometimes hot and nasty. And he likes helping others. Still, he said, he has to work at it every day to avoid relapsing.

“I have to constantly encourage myself, or I’ll go back,” he said. “And I don’t want to go back.”