CHARLOTTE — Ramona Brant is maximizing her "second chance." After serving 21 years behind bars, she landed a job with the City of Charlotte as a talent acquisition associate. But, she says her story is the exception and not the rule.
"When you think incarceration, you think of a violent black person and you automatically want to slam doors and lock windows and not give them the opportunity that they need," she said. "That's why a lot of - more so males than females - they give up."
Brant has pledged to be a voice for former inmates.
Re-entry advocates say a criminal record can create obstacles to finding employment and housing that is so great that many turn back. Nearly 70 percent of prisoners are arrested again within three years of their release.
"I've had numerous people who sat with me who said I can't find a job. I think I should just commit a crime and go back to prison," said Myra Clark who works with former prisoners on returning to society.
From her view, there's a simple solution to help decrease recidivism - the entire community must do a better job of helping them re-assimilate. She says they need options. For example, a free class offered by the Center for Community Transitions that teaches skills for getting hired and staying employed.
"If you have better resources and can make better choices, then you are less likely to go to prison and jail," said Clark.
Gemini Boyd is an example. He spent more than 20 years behind bars. Now, he works for the City of Charlotte as a driver.
"Over 80 percent of the people who are incarcerated today will one day be released and we have to have something for them when they come home," he offered.
Boyd said he believes many times when people re-offend that it's really a cry for help. He's creating a non-profit so he can mentor.
"Build a platform for people like me for when they do come home," he explained. "So, when they think about doing something they ain't got no business doing, they can pick up the phone and say 'I can call Gemini he might can help me out on this.'"
Re-entry advocates say public perception must also change. For the first time, a re-entry simulation is being planned in Charlotte to make all citizens, especially potential employers and landlords, more compassionate towards those who've been incarcerated.
"I try to encourage them not to go to a life of crime, but to figure it out," said Brant.
She says a hiring manager with an open heart opened the door for her. She urges everyone to be more accepting.
"Please, whatever you learn during your Sunday worship, please apply it to your daily life and give us a chance to live," she said.
The Center for Community Transitions
Re-Entry Services of Mecklenburg County