Program Offers Ex-Felons a Fresh Start

When talking about the criminal justice system, there is often reference made to a “rotating door” of offenders: after convictions, sentences, and brief stints in the “real world,” many criminals find themselves charged with new crimes, and once again sitting next to a criminal defense attorney in court. So why is it so hard to re-enter mainstream society after a serious conviction?

For many, the felony label that accompanies a conviction makes finding a legitimate job nearly impossible. Without a steady paycheck, many ex-cons who genuinely want to turn their lives around cannot, and are forced to revert to illegal methods of earning income.

The Resonance Center for Women, Inc. of Tulsa, Oklahoma decided that that cycle was unacceptable, according to the Greater Tulsa Reporter. And so CertiRestore was born. CertiRestore is a program that fulfills two seemingly unrelated needs: the need for fine furniture craftsmanship and the need for steady jobs for convicted felons.

Apparently, RCW has been helping women gain self-sufficiency for 30 years. CertiRestore allows them to take their work one step further. But how do these convicted felons learn their trade, and do their jobs keep them out of trouble?

The women receive training from master crafters, and, as new workers join CertiRestore, pass their skills along, sources explain. And, in addition to the “hard” skills needed to produce fine furniture, the women are taught “soft” skills like budgeting income, communicating with colleagues, developing a work ethic, and building self-esteem.

For people who were struggling to find child care, pay for groceries, and find a place to live – largely because they couldn’t find a steady job – this is extraordinary.

Though CertiRestore recently received a sizable grant from the Tulsa Area United Way, programmers see this as a necessary, short-term fund: the Reporter notes that CertiRestore expects to turn a profit by 2009, meaning that the company and its employees will be truly self-sufficient.

No wonder one worker reportedly said the program has made a “radical difference” in her life. In addition to working hard at their craft, the Reporter continues, the women of CertiRestore are looking toward their futures, pursuing their educations, and discovering interests they never knew they had.

The benefits of CertiRestore go beyond what is gained by furniture buyers and the women employed. According to a recent study done by researchers at Florida State University school of criminology, those with convicted-felon labels have a very difficult time getting hired when they leave prison.

Among the convicted felons, women were less likely to be hired than men, the report showed. CertiRestore aims to stop this cycle of recidivism and allow convicted felons to enter into mainstream life without the impairment of a felony label.

So far, it seems like everybody’s winning.