TEEM Participant Rallies for Post-Incarceration Employment at Panel Discussion

On January 20, 2015, TEEM participant Rodney Simmons, along with TEEM’s Executive Director Kris Steele, spoke to several Oklahoma organizations on the importance of second chances. “Post-Incarceration Employment: A Societal, Talent and Legal Imperative for Success,” sponsored by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Employer Council, served as a call to action to Oklahoma employers that do not consider hiring candidates with a felony history.

The panel also featured Max Duroff, HR Maximizer for Buy For Less, Oklahoma State Representative Bobby Cleveland, Clint Castleberry, Chief Administrator of Program Services for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Attorney Mary Snyder, Greg Dewey, VP of Corporate and Human Resources at Tapstone Energy and Sandino L. Thompson, Director of Urban Services at Public Strategies.

Employment continues to be a leading barrier for individuals impacted by incarceration. On an annual basis, approximately 8,500 individuals are released from Oklahoma prisons. Upon release, many are provided with only $50 and a one-way bus ticket. Simmons provided a first-hand account of the obstacles that individuals face upon their release. He advised that most are left with minimal options to find success.

“[When I was initially released] I couldn’t find work and I went back to selling drugs,” said Simmons. “I fell back to what I knew, but that’s not what I wanted to do.”

According to recent reports, Oklahoma is incarcerating more than 28,000 people. Over half of these individuals are deemed to be low-risk nonviolent offenders. Many lack the basic resources and skillsets needed to make successful reentry possible.

“These individuals are no different than you and me,” said Executive Director Kris Steele. “They have talents and desire to be contributing members of society. They have dreams just like the rest of us.”

Greg Dewey, Vice President of Corporate and Human Resources at Tapstone Energy, shared his company’s experience with hiring workers impacted by incarceration. His staff continues to find success and has recently promoted an employee that came to the company with a criminal background.

“The rate of retention was no different,” Dewey said. “We have to look below the surface and see the potential that is there.”

Simmons said that employers can help by simply offering potential employees with a criminal background a chance at a better life.

“Take it under consideration to give felons a second chance,” he said. “We are still humans. We’ve made bad choices in life, but we can turn around and help better a life.”

Steele advised that employers have an opportunity to help end the mounting obstacles facing many state residents. 

“There is no such thing as a spare Oklahoman,” he said. “The single biggest key to stop a person from reoffending is employment. You are the answer!”

A special thanks to Max Dubroff and Buy For Less for organizing the event.