LEBANON, Ohio – When Amanda Hall began her prison term at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, she felt hopeless.
“I was embarrassed. I was devastated,” she said. “Like, man, I really wasted my life. I can’t believe this is where I ended up. It was lonely and scary.
Addiction issues led Hall down a wrong path, she said, and the former honorary student wondered if she would ever be able to get her life back on track.
Then Hall heard talk JBM packaging in Lebanon, Ohio. The family-owned manufacturing company hires people with criminal records after serving their sentences, and JBM’s Fair Chance program gives these employees the support they need to rebuild their lives.
“When I joined JBM I felt accepted and excited for my future,” said Hall, 36, who started working at JBM as a machine operator in 2019 after serving his term. prison sentence. “I just felt kissed and, you know, I was hopeful. Completely different.”
Hall recently became Head of Talent Acquisition and Training at JBM – his second cohort in less than two years. And on Thursday, she will help represent the company at the inauguration Beacon of Hope Career Fair in Washington Park on the other side of the Rhine.
The job fair aims to provide employment opportunities for people with criminal records by connecting men and women who have served their sentences with companies like JBM, said Rayshun Holt, program director of the A flagship business alliance of hope. Representatives of the Ohio Center for Justice and Policy and the Hamilton County Office of Re-entry will be there too, he said.
The number of Greater Cincinnati businesses willing to hire people with criminal records is growing rapidly, he said, in part because of the tight job market.
“As these companies seek talent in different nooks and crannies that might have been overlooked before, there is learning that comes with it,” said Holt. “And they find out, ‘Hey, maybe we should have done this before.’ It’s really about leveling the playing field for individuals and giving everyone a fair chance to be successful in real life and have a gainful job.
“Fantastic” for businesses
Nehemiah Manufacturing is one of the region’s pioneering companies in hiring employees with criminal records, and its founders launched the Beacon of Hope Business Alliance, which is now operated by the non-profit employment organization Cincinnati Works. Nehemiah and JBM Packaging are among the sponsoring companies of the job fair.
JBM became interested in hiring a “second chance” or “just chance” about six years ago, said Marcus Sheanshang, president, CEO and owner of the company.
“We had a problem, like many companies, in finding enough team members,” said Sheanshang. “And we looked for a lot of different alternatives. “
Meanwhile, Sheanshang became interested in the ministry work that his church, Crossroads, was doing at the Lebanon Correctional Facility. The idea of hiring people right out of jail, he said, developed from there.
“Before all of this, I had no intention of working with people with criminal or criminal backgrounds,” Sheanshang said. “The more we learned about it, however, it really struck me that it was going to be difficult for someone to get back on their feet. And we found that the people we got on board here – the more we learned and the relationships we could build with them – were very grateful to have a new opportunity, a new role here.
The company now has three production machines at the Pickaway Prison Printing Plant so that inmates can learn the skills JBM needs before their release.
Of the 150 or so employees at JBM, he said, around 35 are people who have previously received criminal convictions. JBM calls them fair-chance employees, and retention among this group is 11% higher than the rest of the workforce. Fair Trade Workers have also enabled the company to increase production by 20%.
The company has a starting salary of $ 16 an hour for machine operators and $ 18.50 an hour for machine maintenance technicians.
JBM gives employees a fair chance to help buy cars and advice on budgeting and saving money. The Company Change Coach is available to help any employee overcome the obstacles that prevent them from becoming “the best version of themselves,” he said.
“I am a very conservative person. This is something that, if you had asked me 10 years ago that we would do this now, I would have called you a liar, ”Sheanshang said. “It was fantastic. My phrase that I use a lot is that, you know, I don’t know where we would be right now without our fair chance program.
From disorder to message
Hall said she also didn’t know where she would be without JBM.
“I didn’t think there would be a job there for someone with a criminal background – and who had everything JBM had to offer,” she said. “When incarcerated people come back into society, we have all this fear and anxiety about the obstacles we face when it comes to getting a job, finding housing, paying your fines, securing transport. “
JBM’s Fair Chance program helps employees break down each of these barriers, she said.
“You know, how do I take my mess and turn it into a message because I really want to show that, yes you can mess something up in your life. I mean you can mess it up to the point of going to jail. “Hall said.” But that’s not the end of your story. You can really get over it and you can still do something with your life. “
Now Hall has the family and the “dream life” she always wanted – a loving partner and their 11 month old daughter, Kaiya.
“When I think of all my struggles, you know, all the trials and tribulations, everything that I’ve been through, I know it was to serve a bigger purpose,” she said. “If I hadn’t taken all of these steps that I ended up taking and followed this path, I wouldn’t be with this wonderful man and have this beautiful girl right now and I wouldn’t have not this fantastic job. “
The starting point, she said, was to have a business that was willing to give it a chance.
“Not everyone in prison is a bad person,” she said. “We just need someone to believe in us and give us a second chance and show that we can redeem ourselves.”
More than 30 employers will be in attendance at the Beacon of Hope Job Fair from noon to 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 10 at Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine. The event is free and open to the public. After the information is available online.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the tri-state great and highlight the issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, send an email to [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.