Want to save Baltimore? Start with one person

Dan Rodricks

One man, one woman at a time - let's try it that way. Let's say you own a small business, or let's say you're in middle management of a medium-to-large-to-extra-large company. Maybe you're even the CEO, or the COO or the CFO. Maybe you have an MBA, belong to the GBC, work in HRD, drive a BMW, or something GMC.

OK?

Now let's say your small business or medium-to-large-to-extra-large company is willing to consider giving an XO a chance - that stands for "ex-offender" - but you're reluctant to get into it. You've read about it, heard talk about it. The governor you voted for supports the concept. You have a friend who claims some success with hiring an XO. But you don't really want the risk. You don't want to deal with the potential disappointment and failure.

Understandable.

So how about trying it one man, one woman at a time?

Don't hire six former heroin addicts, and set the whole experiment up for failure. Hire one.

Go slow: One day at a time - one man, one woman at a time.

Be a mensch. Be a mentor.

Take a personal interest in this person.

And take a precaution: Hire a man or woman who has been through one of the handful of good programs in Maryland that work specifically with ex-offenders to put them back to work. That way, you have some support, an organization that stands behind the new employee. You'll get an employee who has been prepared to join the working mainstream, someone who has been federally insured for up to $5,000 in theft or damage, and someone who has demonstrated the ability to show up on time in clean clothes.

We've got a problem: More than 50 percent of the thousands of men and women who come out of Maryland prisons each year end up back inside one within three. It costs us about $25,000 a year per inmate to keep them locked up. I'm no COO or CFO, but I can pretty much see a failure rate here that would not be tolerated in a small business or medium-to-large-to-extra-large company.

Even if inclined to go straight in straight time, a lot of these people face huge obstacles, starting with the fact that many small businesses or medium-to-large-to-extra-large companies won't hire them.

I don't know how we ever break the cycle of crime-incarceration-unemployment-crime if we don't give these men and women a second chance.

Many, of course, need drug treatment before they can work, and almost all need to go through one of the XO job-training or placement programs.

But once they've done that - demonstrated their motivation to be a better man or better woman - then somebody out there has to give them a chance.

And if one man or one woman hires one man or one woman - if the CEO takes a personal interest in the XO - we might get somewhere. With thousands of businesses in Maryland doing this, we might actually see some serious social progress in this state. We might see Baltimore's unemployment rate drop. We might see its homicide rate drop further. We might see more men and women feeling better about themselves and assuming their roles as supportive parents. We might see more kids better cared for, and in school where they belong - not doomed to keeping the prison guards employed forever.

Getting started
If you're interested in becoming part of the solution to this problem, there are two events coming up that you - or someone from HRD - might be interested in: On Friday, there's a forum on issues facing XOs as they attempt successful re-entry into our communities. The forum takes places from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at New Shiloh Baptist Church, 2100 N. Monroe in Baltimore. It is sponsored by the Center for Fathers, Families and Workforce Development (CFWD), the Open Society Institute and The Sun. I've been asked to give opening remarks.

The other speakers have been engaged in this issue for a long time.

Tomi Hiers is an official of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services who has been appointed to develop a comprehensive system for offenders' re-entry.

John Jeffries is a national expert on the subject; he teaches at Columbia University and is co-author of "Serving Incarcerated and Ex-Offender Fathers and Their Families."

Some of the speakers will be XOs who have had success after prison. For more information, call 410-367-5691.

On Friday, Dec. 16, it's the 2005 Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Employer Appreciation Breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Inner Harbor Hotel, from 8 to 10 a.m. Employers from Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties will be recognized for their efforts to give XOs a second chance. This event is sponsored by Baltimore's Ex-Offender Initiative, part of the Mayor's Office of Employment Development. For more information, contact Brenda Jennings-Queen at 410-523-1060.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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