A Self-Motivated Participant Finds a Career

Mar 01, 2024   |  By Ryan M. Moser

Some people take a crisis and turn it into an opportunity, and Jason is one of them. Sentenced to prison at the age of 18, Jason knew that he could dwell on his mistakes and live an unhappy life inside, or he could pursue a purpose and be satisfied in a bad situation.

“I did everything I could to get an education and learn a trade when I was incarcerated,” he said. “I wouldn't have made it any other way. Being productive gave me the ability to be an asset when I got home.”

While inside, Jason earned his associate's degree, became a certified plumber, and was trained in the culinary arts, a goal he’d had since growing up in Memphis, Tennessee. For twenty-six years, Jason did anything he could to learn. And he used that same grit and determination when he was released to return to the workforce as a cashier at a supermarket.

“They loved my work ethic, but unfortunately someone complained about my record,” Jason said. “After I was fired, I went to a job fair in Memphis, and that’s where I met the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO).”

Jason quickly enrolled as a participant with CEO, immediately joining a transitional work crew that was beautifying the highways around the city. He was paid daily and enjoyed working outside cleaning the streets and tasting freedom.

For three months, Jason worked on the crew while actively meeting with his job coach to polish his resume, do mock interviews, and search for a full-time position in a company.

“The CEO staff taught me how to use search engines to find employment,” Jason said. “I learned so much about new technology that I’d missed.”

After submitting resumes around the area, he was hired by Enterprise Car Rental as a detailer, maintaining the lot inventory and working with a large team.

“Working with CEO prepared me for my new job,” he said. “And they provided me with retention checks every month even after I left, which motivated me more.”

Because of his willingness to learn, CEO asked Jason to become a member of the Advocacy Leadership Committee (ALC), a group of current and former CEO participants who are trained to use their personal experience to advocate for meaningful policy reform.

“We use our stories to help lawmakers see us as real people,” Jason said. “This matters when it comes time to make policies that affect people.”

The committee that Jason works with focuses on topics like food assistance and fair chance hiring while bringing together different voices that can meet with understanding.

“We’re trying to change a federal law that stops people with drug sales from getting food assistance,” he said. “Everyone has an opinion, but we all agree that someone’s charges shouldn’t prevent them from getting help.”

Not long after starting his job with Enterprise, Jason was promoted to a car sales inspector and is proud of the advocacy work he continues to do with CEO.

“Receiving help when you need it takes a burden off,” Jason said. “And CEO helps you get back on your feet.”

The campaigns ALC members work on are major initiatives that help remove systematic barriers to success for people like Jason. Find out more about our policy and organizing work, and how you can help move policies, like the RESTORE Act - which Jason is advocating for, forward.