May 2, 2016. The Columbus Dispatch.
It’s been years, but Michael Taylor still remembers the humiliation of being escorted from his job by two armed security guards after a background check revealed his criminal record.
He was a temporary employee, looking to be hired on as a supervisor, when his past caught up with him.
Next, he took on a minimum-wage job making fruit baskets for a grocery chain. Then he heard about Nehemiah Manufacturing.
About four years later, he’s an operations manager who oversees as many as 80 workers at a time.
The Cincinnati company bases its business model on hiring former criminals as an expression of the executives’ Christian faith. The company, Taylor said, took him on at a time when employment disappointments had him on the verge of returning to the chaos of alcohol and heroin abuse.
“I don’t think it would be a stretch at all to say that I would be in jail or dead,” he said.
Mike Pachko, Nehemiah’s chief operating officer, visited Columbus last month to discuss the company’s success at a “Barriers to Bridges” poverty summit at Christ the King Catholic Church on the East Side.
The event is one of many recent initiatives organized by faith groups to address issues faced by former inmates. Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Bexley recently hosted a “Beyond the Walls” symposium sponsored by the Payne Theological Seminary Anderson Ecumenical Institute. And jobs for re-entering citizens is one of this year’s focus areas for the Building Responsibility, Equality and Dignity coalition of religious congregations, known as BREAD.
The Rev. Clyde Sales, senior minister at Genessee Avenue Church of Christ on the North Side, is working on the BREAD initiative. He said many former convicts must take temporary positions, work multiple jobs or walk the streets asking to mow lawns or shovel snow.
A goal is to encourage public officials, businesses and local foundations to consider creating anchor businesses in communities such as Linden and the Hilltop.
“We have people who don’t have jobs because they’ve been excluded from hiring because of mistakes they’ve made,” he said. “The doors are basically slammed shut as soon as they fill out an application or apply.”
Norm Wernet, a BREAD member from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the University District, said the group’s research shows that about 11,000 people are released from the Franklin County jail each year, and about 20,000 people are released from state prisons.
If they have decent jobs, he said, they pay taxes and contribute to society. Denying that takes away their dignity and self-worth and can drive them back to crime.
Catherine Money, a former prison warden, said Ohio inmates are released with $75, leaving many to spend their initial nights of freedom in homeless shelters. She serves as executive director of the Reynoldsburg-based Kindway, a Christian-based organization whose EMBARK program assists inmates before and after they are released.
A goal is to reduce the 27.1 percent of inmates who return to prison and to help people who are released find safe, sanitary housing, jobs and other needs, such as transportation, addiction-recovery services and programs that shift criminal thinking to pro-social thinking. The group uses volunteer mentors to “journey along with them,” Money said.
“We care about them, love and support them.”
Since 2011, 65 people have left the program. None have re-committed felonies; two returned to prison for short stints for parole violations.
Money said one EMBARK client who had followed in the footsteps of her imprisoned mother “broke that cycle” by earning her GED and a license to install heating and cooling systems and landing a good job.
Rob Smith, president of Capitol Waste & Recycling Services on the South Side, said a former inmate who works part time for him started out sweeping floors and has since learned new skills, including welding and painting.
“Anybody that has faith realizes that God has put all of us in charge of taking care of our brothers,” he said.
Pachko, at Nehemiah Manufacturing, said the company recently formed the Beacon of Hope Business Alliance to encourage and help other businesses follow its lead. About 115 employees work for Nehemiah. About 65 are former inmates, and Pachko calls them some of the the most loyal and hardworking he’s employed in 30 years of business.
The company employs two social workers to help with addiction and other issues, and offers profit sharing, health care and help with loans and housing.
“We’re not helping them, they’re helping us,” Pachko said. “The return and the blessing is just unmatched.”
Taylor, 33, who served his last jail sentence six years ago for breaking and entering, said that his several promotions at Nehemiah have each been accompanied by wage increases, allowing him to plan to get married in October.
“I can hold my head up,” he said. “Nehemiah helped me become a man.”