Chanting for Jobs, Not Jails

Ron Brown, 52, wants a J-O-B, He believes so strongly that job creation and opportunities for everyone is what it will take to curb crime that he showed up for a rally long before others show up.

“People won’t have time to steal when they’re working and making an honest living,” he said as he straddled his bike on the corner of a protest site.

Brown pedaled eight miles and arrived at the “Jobs Not Jails” protest three hours early, long before about 50 like-minded protesters carried signs, shouted chants and listened to some organizers tell why job growth holds the key to safe and vibrant communities.

“It’s hard enough to get a job when you haven’t done something wrong,” Brown said.

The focus of the short protest on June 16, near where the new $400 million Horseshoe Casino is being built downtown Cincinnati, was employment equity for all—-including people with felony records.

Young leaders of the AMOS Project descended early on the site, declaring the casino a crime scene and marking it so with police-style “caution” tape.

“The casino is a crime scene, taxpayers and returning citizens are the victims, and the perpetrator is the state of Ohio,” said Richard Cook, AMOS Project leader and member of Christ Temple Baptist Church. “It’s a crime that people can’t work in the casino if they have criminal records. It’s another example of legal restrictions that keep ex-felons from providing for their families.”

One of the protesters, Annie Campbell, held up a big sign that read, “Ex-felons, Know Your Rights.” Campbell a member of SEIU explained the dilemma faced by felons succinctly.

“Some people still can’t get jobs, even years after they’ve done their time or had their record expunged.”

Another protester gave his take on why the issue of jobs, not jail is important.

“Jail time means they paid a debt (to society), but we still treat them as though they’re not part of society by denying
them jobs,” said Robert Richardson. The sign he waved said, “Jobs needed badly.”

Job seeker, Jamie Ward knows what it feels like to need a job badly. He’s a cook, concrete pourer, skilled in carpentry and carrier of an OSHA safety certificate. Employers still don’t hire him, he said, because his record shows felony, but no penitentiary number. Ward served jail time, but not prison time, he said. Potential employers tell him that lack of a prison number makes a difference, but they don’t tell him why that is. Ward has been looking for a job for four years.

The chanting quieted when Troy Jackson, of University Christian Church and AMOS Project Director, took the microphone and spoke of the “transformation” and “redemption” ordinary citizens create when helping to turn lives around to participate in these jobs.

“One mistake—a life sentence,” he said, summing up the difficulties felons face in the job search process. Ohio must address over 900 collateral sanctions, which are legal restrictions that ban employment in various sectors or make getting a job extremely difficult for Ohio’s estimated two million individuals with misdemeanor or felony convictions. It is significant that the protesters were not asking for guaranteed jobs. They just want fair consideration for people with old and irrelevant criminal records.

The booming voices started back up when Jackson finished. Passing motorists were told “A working community is a safe community” and participants wore t-shirts reading “I Need A Job” or asking for an end to the Drug War. The demand for “Jobs and Justice” were paired in spirited fashion with “Faith and Democratic Power”, as well as the popular chant: “John Kasich, you’re the worst. It’s time to put Ohio first.”

Kasich, who has proposed privatizing at least five state prisons, promised during his State of the State address to support
giving job opportunities to ex-felons while allowing lower-risk felons back on the street earlier. In January of this year, Kasich chose Gary C. Mohr, who used to work at a company that operates private prisons, to run the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Just last month, ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said privatizing prisons is seen as a quick remedy for states looking to alleviate budget concerns, but they are often more costly to the state in the long run.

By condemning rehabilitated people to unemployment and under-employment, no-felon hiring policies will only end up increasing the burden on the city’s own overloaded criminal justice and public welfare systems.

In addition, Kasich’s indecisiveness is causing billions in new investment in Ohio to be delayed – along with the relatively-high paying construction and casino jobs it would create. (No doubt Kasich’s long time friends from his Lehman Brothers days Doug Preisse and Robert Klaffky now working as lobbyists for the Belterra Indiana casinos and employed by Belterra owner Pinnacle Entertainment, are overjoyed at news of the ongoing delays.) While Ron Brown braves the elements and heavy traffic on his bicycle in search of a job, Kasich’s current casino commissioners are paid $60K/year to attend one meeting a month.

For more information about the Amos Project, contact Richard Cook at (513) 628–7004 or info.amosproject@gmail.com.

If you have a criminal record and seek advice regarding employment visit: http://lasclev.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Understanding-and-Sealing-Criminal-Records-in-Ohio.pdf You can read more about Fair Hiring policy rules at www.ohiojpc.org.

The Ohio Justice and Policy Center published a documentary about a client, Gene Mays, profiled in Nov. 1, 2009, of Streetvibes, and his struggles to find employment. Watch the film online at: http://vimeo.com/6055716

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