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Success Story: James

April 18, 2014

IMG_1306 (2)Imagine walking outside one day and the world as you knew it had changed. It sounds frightening—and a little bit dreamlike—but this scenario is the reality for hundreds of people released from prison each year after serving long-term sentences.

When James walked out of prison, it was the first time he’d experienced the world outside of the prison walls in more than 24 years. Gone were the VCRs and eight-tracks he remembered leaving behind, and in front of him was a world teeming with tiny cell phones and wireless devices that he had no knowledge of operating. “I was ashamed and embarrassed to ask people about these common things that they took for granted,” he recalls.

James attended Goodwill’s Second Chance workshop to gain tips on dealing with a criminal record in his job search. Through the program, he gained temporary employment as a contractor in Goodwill’s E-waste department. He began building a base of employment skills and work experience to help him find and keep a job.

Although James was open about his criminal background, there was a secret that he kept hidden from the world. Feeling insurmountable pressure to find a job and acclimate to a new life outside of prison, James was drinking heavily to cope with the frustration, anger and fear that he felt. “When I looked in the mirror, I saw a failure,” he said. “I felt like I was too old to make a change.”

James reached his lowest point after surfacing from a three-day drinking binge. He checked into a detox program and stayed for more than a month. With the help of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte and Urban Ministries, James participated in their respective Community-Based Substance Abuse Treatment (CBSAT) program and the Substance Abuse Education and Recovery (SABER) program to regain control over his life. Over the course of several months, he received free housing, substance abuse education and therapy.

After completing treatment, James ran into Goodwill team member Vince Hicks. Aware of James’ personal situation, Vince asked him when he could start working again. Within days, Vince set up a meeting between James and Director of Environmental Enterprises Patrick Darrow. Patrick offered James a second chance to work at Goodwill in the e-waste department once again.

With a new outlook on life, James was grateful for the opportunity to prove his value as a worker. “Goodwill helped me grow emotionally and mentally because they bent over backwards to help me,” said James. “They saw that I was trying to build a different life for myself and supported me every step of the way. That motivated me to work even harder every day to prove that I am responsible, dependable and trustworthy.”

Now eight months sober, James has already started his job search with the help of team member Betty Cherry for when his contract with Goodwill ends. He keeps his goals simple. “I want to find permanent employment, find a place of my own and get a dog,” he laughs.

With a burgeoning skill set, James is eager to try out the tools he’s acquired at Goodwill in a permanent workplace. “It won’t be easy,” he admits, “but I’m no longer a person who is scared to try. I have faith that I can win this fight.”

Elizabeth Isenhour

Elizabeth Isenhour

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