“A Diamond in the Rough” – How CEO is Helping Demetrius Uncover His True Potential
Like many people reentering their communities after incarceration, Demetrius faced roadblocks to obtaining employment once he got home. Prospective employers struggled to look beyond his record, and Demetrius found he needed to improve some professional skills to help him stand out as a job candidate.
Thankfully, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) in Colorado Springs was able to help Demetrius start on the right path.
A church friend learned about Demetrius’s struggles finding work and suggested looking into the services CEO offers. Not long after enrolling in CEO’s program, Demetrius worked with the Colorado Department of Transportation as a member of their road crew.
That work isn’t glamorous, but it was a valuable bridge between incarceration and a productive work life. It also gave Demetrius the opportunity to prove he could be responsible, professional, and work collaboratively with a team.
Demetrius explains that CEO brought out a lot of good things he had hidden inside himself.
“I got polished,” he says. “I was a diamond in the rough, and they helped me develop my soft skills: communication, interacting with people from all walks of life.”
Thanks to CEO, Demetrius earned his flagger certification, opening up a range of job opportunities managing traffic control.
“CEO can impact people in all walks of life. Once you’re involved with the justice system, a lot of opportunities get taken away,” he says. “CEO gives the opportunity to gain confidence and make a living, which go hand in hand. To know that there’s places like CEO that can level the playing field is valuable. That’s the difference between a person committing crimes and not.”
At CEO, Demetrius has also become very active in the Justice Involved Voices (JIV) affinity group. JIV helps justice-involved staff at CEO with the challenges of reentering society, including work, family, and community, and creating a network of support by celebrating successes and providing learning and growth opportunities.
Demetrius is still fairly new to JIV, but he’s happy to be involved and excited to do and learn more.
Currently, Demetrius is working alongside CEO’s policy and organizing teams as an advocacy fellow. His primary mission is to advocate for increased cash assistance for those just being released from incarceration. Their goal is to secure public funding for direct cash payments for people that can help them cover their most essential needs while they while they search for employment or participate in career training.
“It alleviates the pressure of those decisions,” says Demetrius. “Groceries vs. diapers. Transportation vs. the water bill. The money is not even 1% of what it costs to incarcerate someone, and it helps prevent recidivism. It makes the decisions easier and helps people avoid poor choices.”
He sees the work the policy and organizing teams are doing as necessary to people who are struggling to reassemble their lives after some time away. In the coming weeks, Demetrius hopes to meet with different policymakers and community leaders to argue that reentry stipends go a long way to keeping communities safe and individuals working a positive path.
“It’s about people putting in work to help other people,” Demetrius says, “and filling that void.”
With CEO’s positive influence, Demetrius was able to identify his unique talents and understand how he could positively impact the world. He credits CEO for teaching him to take accountability for his renewed thinking processes. This added perspective has given Demetrius the drive to move forward in ways he never thought possible.
Now he is focused on using his skills and experience to improve the lives of people impacted by the justice system. He’s been speaking about reentry and getting more experience being an advocate, and, as he says, “a voice for the voiceless.”
Demetrius is also trying to expand CEO Colorado Springs’ ‘Closing Closet’ across the organization, to ensure others like him have the professional attire they need to land the job and show up looking sharp. And he even has a vision to take it beyond the walls of CEO. One day, he hopes to start his own organization, where he can pay it forward and help others find the kind of opportunities CEO is giving him.
“CEO woke up another part of me,” he explains. “I have the opportunity to give back, to myself and the community. A different path. A different avenue.”