Guest post: Convicted felons struggle to find work

This blogpost was originally posted at by Mark Dipaola (permission to repost granted). It’s something to think about-convicts with a felony on their record often have trouble finding work after they are paroled (and even after completing all probation/rehab orders) because most employers do not want to hire ex-felons.


Bob McDaniel sits across from me in a chair in one of the offices at STRIVE New Haven, a career resource organization, calmly laying out the darker details of his past, and how they have made his present and future so difficult.

It’s a short break from the job search that has brought him to STRIVE’s computers every day since the beginning of July, but he might chalk it up to practice. That’s because employers will inevitably be asking him to explain the third degree burglary plastered onto his record-that is, if he is lucky.

Yesterday he wasn’t. 

“I went to an interview yesterday with an environmental group,” McDaniel says. “It was about eight minutes into the interview and she seemed really impressed with my work history. I have a lot of experience in pest control. I did that for about twelve years.”

But then his prospective employer read further down the application and saw that he had checked the box asking whether or not he has been convicted of a crime more severe than a misdemeanor. McDaniel told her that it was a burglary and tried to elaborate, but he didn’t get the chance.

“She didn’t even let me finish,” McDaniel says. “She jumped up, shook my hand, and said, ‘sorry, but you’re not going to be a good fit for this company right now’. It seems to happen a lot.”

And it does. So much, in fact, that in 2008 the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that the 12 million to 14 million working age ex-offenders lowered the U.S. male employment rate by between 1.5 to 1.7 percentage points, according to a report released by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in 2010.

In other words, having a record makes finding work difficult, and in Connecticut, where the general unemployment rate was 6.6 in July-compared to 6.2 nationwide-it’s going to be harder for those with baggage.

“The first thing is the stigma of having been in the justice system,” says Edgar Jones, a jobs developer for the group Project MORE, a prisoner reintegration program in Fair Haven. “They [employers] shy away from it, not giving them a chance to show that they’re rehabilitated. There’s always a story behind a charge or conviction. It’s just a matter of whether or not you’re willing to listen to it.”

For McDaniel, who is 43, that story begins in Florida in 2011.

He admits that he wrestled with drug problems in his early twenties, but he kicked that and got his life together.

“I owned my own home,” McDaniel says. “I was married. I had two children.”

And he had a job that supported them, but in 2011 that changed.

“Another company bought us out,” McDaniel says. “And they basically pushed me out.”

McDaniel managed to find other work, but it wasn’t cutting it.

“Other companies didn’t pay as much,” he says. “I was making about 60 percent of what I had been. I lost my house.”

And his family followed. Arguments about money prompted a divorce, and McDaniel was left alone with his old habits. He held on for a little bit longer, but suffered another loss-his mother died.

“I just went back into the whole cycle of that,” he says. “It’s not an excuse, but I just had a lot of things happening in a short time.”

A year later he came to Connecticut to live with his brother. One thing led to another, and the two found themselves in handcuffs for an attempted burglary in Waterbury that May. Two years served and a 90-day drug treatment program later, and McDaniel is out on parole and beginning to rebuild his life for a second time. He is currently on work release and will be staying at a halfway house until the end of his sentence in February.

“When you’re actively involved in the addiction, you’re not the same person,” McDaniel says.

McDaniel wants the person he feels he was right before he was incarcerated gone forever, but will society give him that chance? That’s the question all ex-offenders face, and if the answer is no, the impact goes beyond just the individual, Jones says.

“That’s the biggest obstacle,” he says. “These guys have families, which is why a lot of them got into the situation that they did-trying to feed their families.”

And that’s ultimately why many end up back in that situation-if they can’t make ends meet the legal way, they’ll find some other way, Jones says.

“If individuals don’t have jobs, they revert back into what they did before they were incarcerated,” Jones says.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported a yearly average of 590,400 individuals released from state or federal prisons since 1990, according to areport published by Congressional Research Service in 2014. Of the 404,638 inmates from 30 states released in 2005-or 75 percent of all prisoners let out that year-more than three quarters were re-arrested within a five year period, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Property crimes accounted for most of the cases, with drug offenses not far behind.

At STRIVE, an estimated 60 percent of job seekers come from the criminal justice system, according to Kendrick Baker, a program manager at the organization’s New Haven branch. Since 2000, they have placed 743 ex-offenders in jobs, he says.

“Employers in New Haven will hire ex-offenders,” Baker says. “It’s possible, but it’s hard when you’re fresh out. They want to see you off probation, like when ‘I’m not here because my probation officer sent me’.”

The Catch 22 is, the “fresh out” stage tends to be when the highest rates of recidivism occurs. More than 43 percent of the re-arrests from the 2005Bureau of Justice Statistics study occurred within the first year of a former inmate’s release, according to Congressional Research Service.

Those re-arrested in their second year out of prison made up 28.5 percent of the cases and the number drops in each of the proceeding years, according to the study.

McDaniel doesn’t plan on becoming part of that statistic. After our conversation, he’s right back at the computers plugging away. Last week he sent out more than 100 applications for openings in everything from restaurant work to construction.

“Every field,” McDaniel says. “I really don’t have a choice.”

Is this proof of racism or an overreaction?

A recent article in the news caught my eye. It is on NBC News about the relatively low number of Hispanics who appear on camera in Hollywood. Numbers behind the camera not included.

“Lights, Camera, Struggle? Hollywood Latinos Speak Out” (emphasis mine)

Lights, camera, struggle? A recent study from the University of Southern California made headlines after concluding Latinos continue to be the most underrepresented group in Hollywood films. The report only confirms what Latino actors, producers, and advocates already know: It is tough to make it in Hollywood, but it is even tougher for Hispanics.

The study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that diversity on-screen lags far behind that of the U.S. population. Researchers looked at films over a six-year period and found that Latino characters accounted for only 4.9 percent of all speaking roles. In contrast, Hispanics are 17.1 percent of the population, yet are 25 percent of the moviegoing public.

Najera observed that prime Latino roles still go to non-Latinos. “Look at “Argo,” the main character was Tony Mendez, a Latino from Colorado… and the part goes to Ben Affleck,” he said. “And if you are not seeing Latinos on camera, that means there are probably few Latinos behind the camera, or writing scripts.”

The USC study also found that Latinas were the mostly likely of any group to appear on film partially or fully nude. Hispanic males were the most likely to be shown in tight or revealing clothing.One reason that Latino performers struggle to find work is that Latino-themed films have a mixed track record at the box office. “La Bamba” (1987) and “Selena” (1997) were successes, and last year’s “Instructions Not Included” became the top-grossing Spanish-language filmof all time in North America. Yet the more recent “Cesar Chavez” film was a commercial disappointment.

I do not want to use this space to complain about racism because that would imply that few Hispanics are being chosen because of discrimination. It could be (I don’t know) that Hispanics are less likely to go into acting than other ethnic groups. But it seems ridiculous to have Ben Affleck playing a Hispanic character in a movie. Though, there was a time, and still is for some, where it is debated as to whether Ben Affleck should be in any movie at all.  I’m Not saying that he’s a bad actor, because as of late he has made a few better performances, but he has made some fairly bad movies (remember Gigli? If not, be glad).

That said I am not surprised that most scripts include few Hispanic characters unless it’s J-Lo, Selma Hayek, Michelle Rodriguez, or Eva Longoria showing a little extra for the camera. Certainly few book adaptions feature prominent Hispanic characters so Hollywood probably just does not see a need for us.

Do you think there is racism in Hollywood or is this an overreaction by some Hispanics in Hollywood?

Side show:Also a college friend of mine is challenging me to the ALS Ice bucket, where I have to dump a bucket of ice cold water on my head and post it to show support for ALS research. Once the video is filmed I will get it up here, probably tomorrow or Friday.

Amazon v Hachette and who’s right

If you like reading and writing you are probably aware of the ongoing dispute between Amazon and Hachette. The issue can be boiled down by people like Hugh Howey who know more about the industry than I do, but there appears to be a rift between so-called “A-list” authors and the “Indies/self-published” authors. While to the layperson this is big corporation vs. big corporation, to those who read and write we know the future of publishing is at stake.

Assuming both sides are being forthcoming about what they believe, the battle seems to be focused on how much in royalties an author should receive and who has the most control over the price on an e-book. A lot of self-published/indie authors think that e-book prices charged by the Big 5 are too high and are often used to compensate for book-flops from other authors in the same brand. Many readers balk at paying more than $10 for an e-book, since you don’t actually have a copy of a book, only a digital version of the text and cover. The established authors, however, appear concerned that Amazon, probably the biggest shipping company ever this side of the Dutch East India Company is monopolizing the industry and could soon end up as the only major book distributor-and one need not look at one’s cable bill to know how much monopolies suck.

From the Financial Times, dated August 12 (edited for length and emphasis mine):

Authors should back Amazon in the battle with Hachette

©Luis Grañena

Agroup of leading authors, including Donna Tartt, Stephen King and Malcolm Gladwell, has attempted to intervene in the dispute between publisher Hachette and retailing behemoth Amazon. Observers of the music industry are familiar with this tactic; prominent musicians are persuaded that the interests of music publishers are aligned with their own. The reality is very different.

Music and print media are among the industries most fundamentally changed by digitisation. When Amazon likens the change to the arrival of the paperback, it makes a grave underestimation; the invention of printing is a better analogy. Costs and barriers to entry in distribution have almost disappeared…

The role of the book publisher has been based on control of access to channels of distribution. The ambition of the aspirant author has always been to “get published”. Along with the decision as to what should be published, the company has traditionally provided a collection of associated services: identification, support and finance of the underlying literary project, editing of the draft manuscript, and marketing and promotion of the finished work.

But the large conglomerates that have come to dominate publishing are run by people who love money more than they love books. These support activities have been cut back in the interest of maximising the revenue, from control of access to distribution. Today’s bestseller lists are filled with imitations of books that have already been successful; footballer’s memoirs, celebrity chefs, vampires and female-oriented erotic literature.

Such publishers are ill-placed for the new environment. I do not know the extent to which the printed book will remain extant in two decades. But enough ebooks are already being sold to signify that being published by a company such as Hachette or Penguin Random House (part-owned by Pearson, which also owns the Financial Times) is no longer critical.

Readers will miss the traditional bookshop and the comfortable ambience of the library. We have a nostalgic affection for technologically outdated steam locomotives and candlelit dinners. Change is rarely an unequivocal benefit. But the authors who signed the open letter have missed the most significant business consequence of the evolution of the book industry. The author will now be placed where he or she should be – in charge.


This article was written by someone who is siding with Amazon-seeing the future of literature as digital (though printed books I think will never go out of style, they just may not sell as many copies or will be treated like collector’s items) and traditional publishes as being obstacles to progress. Though the traditional publishers will argue that allowing a company like Amazon a lot of control over the distribution of books is bad.

Your thoughts? Who is right?

Thought of the day: Immigration reform

below is a guest post by my friend Mark Dipaola of


photo (28)

photo: Mark Dipaola

In front of NBC Connecticut’s cameras, Carlos Ventura Escalante appears nonchalant as he fields a slew of questions from members of the New Haven news media outside the city’s Federal building.

He’s 17. He looks even younger, and the journey that brought him from the impoverished Guatemalan town of San Marcos to where he now stands had more danger than some experience in a lifetime.

But with a group of about 30 immigration activists-members of New Haven’s Unidad Latina en Accion, (ULA)- and his lawyer, Danielle Robinson Briand, standing behind him, he is calm and collected as he tells reporters about being shoved into a box car with no food and water as he train hopped his way across the Rio Grande, courtesy of a Coyote who is threatening to kill him if he does not pay off a $6,000 debt.

This is the leap of faith that migrants like Escalante take as they flee their war torn and impoverished countries and cross the border to be greeted by the armed citizen border patrol blockades grabbing headlines from California andTexas Governor Rick Perry. But for Escalante, that leap of faith has been more like a treacherous climb.

For him, it starts in San Marcos, where mining companies have contaminated the water supply.

“There’s no water,” Escalante tells reporters through Jasmin Rodriguez, an activist who translates. “Many children are starving.”

Then there’s the gangs-namely El Maras, which tried to force him to join. El Maras threatened to kill him and his brother if he did not run drugs for them. Escalante chose instead to flee to the United States. He arrived in New Haven about six months ago. His brother is here as well, and is helping him to repay his debt to the Coyote.

Read the full article here


Does anyone read long novels anymore?

For all of you who have either found my blog or webpage at, I will introduce myself as an Eagle Scout, a Grade 7 soccer referee, a graduate of Quinnipiac University, and currently the Communications Director of the Caesar Rodney Institute (link)

In today’s topic I wonder about the art of reading. The question is: Do people want to read long books anymore? By long I mean any book over 150,000 words (exact pages vary). The topic is irrelevant-consider the following made that the Internet age is a detriment to long form and deep reading/:

In an article published June 16 in the guardian, the article author Alison Flood wrote:

” The sort of lengthy, involved literary fiction written by the likes of Dickens or Faulkner has met its match in the shape of the internet, according to the author Tim Parks, who believes modern readers are too distracted to appreciate serious literary novels.

Parks’s claims follow swiftly on the footsteps of similar assertions made by his fellow novelist Will Self. He said in May that “the literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes”, as “the hallmark of our contemporary culture is an active resistance to difficulty in all its aesthetic manifestations”.”

But some people took umbrage with Parks’ comments.

” Perhaps proving Parks’s point about distractibility, authors took to Twitter to attack his claims, pointing to recent literary hits including Eleanor Catton’s Booker-winning The Luminaries, Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winningThe Goldfinch and Hilary Mantel’s Booker-winning Wolf Hall. Writer Lee Rourke called Parks’s essay “yet another wrongheaded bleat against the digital network. Man, Literature has ALWAYS been the network,” adding: “Writers, keep that internet SWITCHED ON.” Others pointed to Frank Kermode’s comment from the 1960s, that “the special fate of the novel, considered as a genre, is to be always dying”.

Sam Jordison, the publisher who picked up Eimear McBride’s stream-of-consciousness novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing after it had been rejected by mainstream presses for years, said that “just because Tim Parks is busy that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other people able and willing to put time in to serious reading – or into serious writing”. McBridewon the Baileys prize earlier this month for a book judges called “engaging, readable, unputdownable”.

“Plenty of people are writing long complicated books. Plenty of people are writing long elaborate sentences. Plenty of people aren’t too. It was ever thus,” said Jordison. “Just as there have always been grumpy older writers predicting all this is going to end.”

Many books published today are generally under 120,000 words. For every Atlas Shrugged, War and Peace, or The Count of Monte Cristo there are dozens and dozens of books which are written to be shorter, simpler, and easy to understand. In a future blogpost we will explore book themes and whether people prefer exploring new worlds or reading about the ones they already know.

What about you? Would you read a novel if it was very long? What would it take to make you sit there for hours, days, weeks, trying to finish a book? Or is there a finite limit to your patience?