Get Going

Find a job, invest in your education, build your finances, get on with your new life, and help others through the same process.

Finally. Now that you’re grounded in and fueled by hope, settled into a temporary home, gotten organized with your papers, and armed yourself with some solid people who want to help and support you, it’s time to get going and start writing a new chapter in the story of your life.

For most of us, that new chapter includes the drama of finding (and holding on to) a new job. For many, getting going can (and perhaps should) include the possibility of getting some additional education as a way of investing in your future. For others, getting going can include how to manage money more wisely, effectively, and responsibly. For all of us, getting going means actually living out the new life that we could only dream of while locked up.

Don’t set your sights too high. Any job is a place to start. Don’t hold out for the dream job. (employment counselor) It may be hard to get a job, but it is possible. Many employers will hire a person with a felony conviction. Hiring decisions are based on whether your skills match the job available, whether the employer thinks you’ll be a good employee, and whether you seem like you’ll get along well with the other employees, including the boss. The fact that you have a criminal conviction is something an employer will consider, but it may not be the deciding factor in getting a job. Focus on selling yourself as the best person for the job.

Many experts advise that you take any job, even if it’s less than ideal, because it’s a place to start, and you’ll have some income while you look for a better job. Plus, being employed shows you’re willing to work, and it can help you build a work history.

Make a to-do list every day of your job search. Plan your day so that you make the best use of time. Apply for jobs early in the day when managers are more available. You may want to call an employer to ask about the best time to apply. When you’re unemployed, looking for a job should be your full-time job.
If you need help finding a job, consider making an appointment with one of the organizations described at the end of the chapter. They have a lot of experience helping people with a criminal conviction find a job. Many of them also have personal relationships with employers, so their referrals can help open doors that might otherwise appear closed. You don’t have to do this alone. Many people are understandably in a big hurry to get a job. They think it’s a waste of time to sit through orientations and learn how to do a cover letter and résumé, or to practice talking about their conviction. This may be a huge mistake. A job coach can be a big help.
This is when your “get organized” checklist will come in handy. Remember, without an ID or Social Security card, you can’t get a legit job, and your prospective employer will question your reliability if you don’t have your papers in order.

Your parole officer has to verify your employment, so it’s a problem if you get a job that doesn’t issue a paycheck or pay stub. If an employer is willing to document the dates and hours you work and your pay, then you might receive permission to work there.
Your boss needs to know that you’ll be reliable. If you don’t have permission to drive or don’t have a car, will public transportation or a bicycle get you to and from work?

You usually have to fill out an application when you apply for a job. Employers use job applications to screen people and to decide which applicants to interview. Your application must make a good impression. We recommend that you fill out an application at home when possible so you can take your time and do a good job. Here are some common sense things to keep in mind…

  • Follow all instructions. How well you follow instructions on an application shows how well you follow instructions and complete tasks on the job. Print neatly. Spell everything correctly. Messy or unreadable applications may get thrown away. Fill in every blank and answer every question. If a question doesn’t apply to you, write N/A for not applicable instead of leaving it blank.
  • If your DOC work history is relevant to the job you’re applying for, use it.
  • If the application asks for a salary, you can write “negotiable” on the application if you don’t know the salary for the position.
  • List references who will speak well of you and who have given you permission to list them.
  • First impressions count. Dress up when you pick up or fill out an application. People notice.

Many companies use online applications. You’ll need your own e-mail address. You’ll also need to know how to attach your cover letter and/or résumé into the online application. If you plan on filling out an application at a business, be prepared. Make sure you have all the information you need with you. If possible, have
a sample application with you that you’ve already filled out. Then you can copy the information from the sample application onto the employer’s application.
When you leave a completed application with an employer, ask if it’s convenient to speak with the manager at that time. If this is possible, introduce yourself, shake his/her hand, briefly explain why you’re interested in working there, and thank them for considering you. This is just a quick introduction – a chance to make an impression – not the job interview. Attach your résumé and cover letter to the application with a paper clip. The organizations listed at the end of this chapter can often help you prepare a professional cover letter and résumé. Call back in a day or two to follow up unless they specifically ask you not to call. Check back often enough to let them know you’re interested in the job but not so often that you’re bothering them. It’s a fine line. Keep your message brief and professional. If you say in your cover letter that you’ll call in two days, be sure you follow through.

If a job application doesn’t ask whether you’ve been arrested or convicted of a crime, you don’t have to volunteer it. The “don’t ask – don’t tell” method is how some people get their foot in the door.
However, most applications do ask . Although people have different opinions about how to best handle this, we think it’s best to be honest. Not only is it a better and more God-pleasing way to live, most employers run criminal background checks anyway. It’s not just about getting a job. It’s about keeping the job, and building on it. You can’t build your new life on a lie or a half-truth. If you don’t disclose your criminal record and an employer finds out, s/he probably won’t hire you. If you don’t disclose and the employer finds out after hiring you, you’ll probably get fired.

  • If you provide this information on the application, read the question carefully so that you answer the specific question. For example, the question may be about felonies only, or about felonies and misdemeanors, or for the last seven years, etc. If you say yes to the question about your criminal history, there are several schools of thought about what to do next.
  • Some people believe the best thing to do is to write “Will discuss in interview” next to the box. If you decide to do this, you’ll need to be ready to discuss your conviction. Some people find it very helpful to practice this conversation in job preparation workshops or with a friend. Agencies that provide such workshops are listed at the end of this chapter.
  • Other people suggest answering this question by noting the type of crime, such as “drug charge – nonviolent” and to write “will discuss in interview” when the crime is more serious.
  • Still others advise that you say yes and leave a letter of explanation with the application.
  • Some people recommend that you wait until the question about your background is asked by the person interviewing you, while others recommend the opposite. One criminal justice specialist believes people are more successful if they explain their background early in the interview. For example, someone might say, “I can do all that’s required of the job, but I need to tell you about this first.” The specialist has found that individuals who try this approach are having more success getting and holding jobs because this approach encourages more dialogue between the employer and the applicant. In addition, by taking control of when the question comes up in the interview, applicants appear honest and more at ease

Your choice for how to respond depends upon the circumstances. Just keep in mind that how you present yourself and your conviction is very important. It is helpful to practice this beforehand.

Finding a job can be a long, drawn-out process, and it can be very demoralizing. Most people experience a lot of rejection, a lot of closed doors, and a lot of disappointment before landing a job. It takes guts, perseverance, patience, hard work, and above all, hope, to keep going when you run into one dead end after another. This process will test (and build) your character. Don’t give up. Get the support you need. It’s very frustrating when you don’t hear back at all after applying for a job. This is common, especially when you drop off an application or apply on-line but don’t have an interview. Phone calls and email to find out the status of your application will often not be returned either. After a while, you just assume that you aren’t going to get the job. Sometimes. Though. it takes companies a long time to make a hiring decision so what seems like an eternity to you is really just their normal hiring timeline. If you do hear back and you didn’t get the job, don’t burn any bridge. Stay positive. There is a chance you’re the next person they’ll call if the person hired doesn’t work out. Thank the employer for his or her time and see if the company will keep your application on file and whether there might be other job opportunities in the future. Ask if there’s anything you could improve on that would make a difference. Ask if the employer knows anywhere else you might apply. Keep trying. Some people say getting a job is like a game of odds. The more you apply, and the more doors you knock on, the better your chances.

Day labor agencies may be a way to make money right after you’re released. They agree to pay you a certain wage per hour. There’s a list of these agencies in the phone book’s yellow pages under employment. Check with your parole officer first before working for a day labor agency. Some community corrections programs won’t let people work in day labor. You might consider registering with a temporary work agency. Sometime temporary work assignments turn into permanent jobs. Be careful though. Don’t go with a temp agency that charges you any fees.

One of the best ways you can invest in yourself and your future is to get further education. If didn’t graduate from high school, try to get your GED certificate as soon as you can, Almost all work or training opportunities require either high school graduation or GED certification. If you already have your diploma or GED, consider enrolling in community college. For example, a basic accounting class could help you open your own business, and writing skills are always useful. If you think college is beyond your dreams, think again. Being focused and motivated – and getting the financial and tutoring help you need – will get you far.

If you need help preparing for the GED test, or if you need to know where you can take the test, go online and check out Best GED Classes at They have a comprehensive listing of where you can take preparation classes (by zip code). The GED program has undergone a complete overhaul, and all four tests of the new GED exam will take a little over seven hours to complete, but you have the option to take each of the four tests separately at the time you are ready, there’s no need to take everything at one time.

You need to understand what your credit report is and how it works. Your credit is checked almost as often as your criminal history, and it can cause just as many problems for you. You also need to know how to budget your money and stay on top of everything!

Managing your money can be one of the most difficult things to do once you get out of prison. Not only will almost everything be more expensive than it was before you went to prison, but being on parole can cost a lot of money. Creating and using a budget will be especially important.

When you went to prison your head was probably spinning with a million things. If you didn’t take care of your bills before you went to prison, don’t forget that you may still be responsible for them. It may not seem important now, but it certainly will be when you’re released. Everybody’s situation is different, so we can’t offer specific advice here. We just want to remind you to not forget about loose financial ends. Just because you forgot about the Verizon bill doesn’t mean Verizon forgot about you. Remember, even if you’re in prison, you can still be held legally responsible for the money you owe on your bills. If you ignore them, the accounts can be turned over to a collection agency with additional fees tacked on as well as ongoing interest.

If at all possible, it’s a good idea to save as much money as you can while you’re incarcerated. Any extra cash over your gate money could make a huge difference during those first few weeks out. Everybody will tell you that $100 does not go far! If you have a friends or family members who are willing to send you a regular amount for canteen, see if they will set some of the money aside for your re-entry instead. Ask other family and friends who say they are interested in your re-entry success to do the same. Once people see you’re willing to sacrifice in order to save for your own re-entry, you may find people are even more willing to help.

Have them deposit the funds in a savings account on the outside and not into your DOC account. Remember, 20% is deducted for restitution and child support from anything deposited into your DOC account.

Get Going Checklist

  • Connected with employment counselors and taken advantage of the training, support, and referrals they can provide?
  • Been disciplined, patient, and energetic about applying for work?
  • Been willing to take a temp job or be the “low man on the totem pole” in order to establish a healthy work ethic and to use that job as a stepping stone to a better and more stable job?
  • Seriously explored (or actually enrolled) in some continuing education for yourself as an important way of investing in your own future?
  • Sought out help and been disciplined by handling your money in a responsible way?
  • Have you worked through the entire process? If so, then it’s time to congratulate yourself, thank others, thank God, and be there to help the next man or woman through reentry!