Jahaun McKinley, Keith Maki prove not all doors are closed after serving time behind bars
For someone leaving the prison system, the path to flourishing is clouded with myriad obstacles. Finding housing, securing employment, and adapting to new cultural expectations are just a few of these barriers. With a 29 percent recidivism rate in the state of Michigan
, many end up back in the prison system.
Jahaun McKinley will not be one of them. McKinley defies the stereotypes of someone who has served significant prison time: he has a thriving career, comes home to a caring family and serves as an active participant in his community. He is a vocal advocate on behalf of people who are transitioning from incarcerated to their communities. His life is devoted to helping others envision a successful future.
Like many, McKinley struggled to adapt after his release from prison. Job applicants with criminal records face immediate discrimination.
“When you are released from prison to the Michigan Prisoner Reentry
program, you are given a list of agencies to work with to foster the transition for you,” McKinley said. “Hope network provided workforce development, [helped me] build a resume, interview skills, [and] basic computer skills.”
Despite these services, McKinley still labored to find employment. He eventually applied for an opportunity from Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids
to work with the 61st District Court
. The court was looking for people who had been incarcerated to do odd jobs including like cutting lawns and cleaning vacant lots. It was the beginning of a new life for McKinley.
“I saw a different side of the police department,” said McKinley, “I used it as an opportunity to build my work experience.”
With this experience, McKinley later landed a job as a press operator at Cascade Engineering
, a Certified B Corporation
During his orientation to the company, he heard Vice President Kenyatta speak about the company culture and philosophy. He knew immediately that this organization would be the gateway to his future dreams.
“Listening to our VP telling us about opportunities, tuition reimbursement programs, and hiring internally—I told Kenyatta that he was looking at his replacement,” McKinley said.
Over the last three years, McKinley has worked his way up from an operator to a supervisor position. Cascade Engineering offers plenty of opportunities to advance within the company, which keeps him motivated.
“It's not just a job, it's a pathway or vision for [my] future,” McKinley said. “There's opportunity for me to succeed, to create for myself and family.”
Cascade Engineering's philosophy of hiring people with criminal records is part of a larger initiative called 30-2-2
. This initiative seeks to provide those exiting the justice system an opportunity to be work ready and desirable to employers. Their goal is to partner with 30 employers to hire two ex-offenders and then monitor progress over two years. Organizations leading the initiative include Cascade Engineering
, Butterball Farms
, Grand Rapids Community College
, Hope Network
, the Women's Resource Center
, and The Source
“It's really important that we give people a second opportunity,” said Keith Maki, Director of Marketing and Public Relations. “It's proven to be a really worthwhile endeavor for us and those people that are part of it.”
McKinley participates in 30-2-2 by speaking directly to companies. A key focus is overcoming stereotypes about people who have been incarcerated. One time, McKinley was preparing to speak to organization about the success of 30-2-2. He sat down before the presentation and began talking with a woman. The woman was unconvinced; she expressed her concerns about the model. She was unaware that McKinley was the speaker for that day.
“When they introduced me, I could see the look on her face,” McKinley said. “When I came back, she elbowed me like 'you tricked me.’ She said the biggest lesson I learned is, I would have never thought you would be that person because I have a misconception of what someone with a conviction looks like.”
The 30-2-2 Initiative helps set aside stereotypes and misconceptions that people have, showing them instead a vision of success.
“These types of stories lend the credibility to the program,” McKinley said. “We only see the [negative] images [of] people with convictions—we think a person with a criminal background is going to eat our children.”
Cascade engineering is also a supporter of the “Ban the Box” campaign, referring to the job applicants who have to submit their criminal record on job applications. In most cases, applicants who list a criminal record are immediately disqualified. Cascade Engineering believes this unfairly eliminates people who may provide great value.
“It allows people to use their experience, school, work (when) applying for a job,” Maki said. “After we are interested in hiring them, then we do a background check.”
In addition to his work at Cascade Engineering, McKinley is also an active participant in his community, where he is a mentor to at-risk youth and people who are incarcerated. On the weekends, McKinley can be found at his local roller rink, mentoring youth in his community. On other days, he travels to prisons to speak those whose sentences are expiring. When speaking to them, he uses his experience as empathy for them to not only give them hope, but create a working vision for their future. McKinley understands the low self-esteem and poor mental health that people suffer in prison.
“I'm asking them to make a life change,” McKinley said. “You have to change your life based on giving yourself a second chance.”
This includes finding a job, but more importantly being surrounding by people who will support positive decisions and guiding presence. According to McKinley, this is the only way to overcome the challenges that come with leaving the prison system.
“Create a dream team of supporters,” McKinley said. “They may come in different shapes and forms and faces, but it's still your dream team.”
“I tell (Vice President) Kenyatta – I'm still on your footsteps,” he said.
You can learn more about Cascade Engineering and the 30-2-2 Initiative by visiting http://www.cascadeconsultinggroup.com/30-2-2
Kevin Lignell is a community activist, globetrotter, and freelance writer for UIX Grand Rapids