Proof That Hard Work Pays Off in the End, Despite a Background

May 17, 2024   |  By Ryan M. Moser

When Junior M. first met State Senator Cooney (D-NY) in Rochester, New York last September during a site visit, the father of three was working for the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), beautifying the highways for the New York Department of Transportation and rebuilding his life as a formerly incarcerated person.

Due to the lack of public investment in training opportunities, several months before that Autumn day, Junior had walked out of prison with nothing but a supportive family and sheer determination. After hearing about CEO while inside, he decided to call the organization to ask for help finding work.

CEO’s mission is to increase employment and access to quality jobs by providing people returning from incarceration immediate paid employment, skills training, and ongoing career support.

After completing the orientation, Junior was placed on a transitional work crew that provided him work experience, durable skills, and a daily paycheck to pay his bills.

“I worked hard cleaning the highways, and each week, I met with my job coach to develop a career plan,” said Junior. “I had some difficulties transitioning back into the workforce, but the staff at CEO were always there to help me through it.”

During that time, CEO paid for Junior to complete the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10-hour safety certification that made him more of an asset to the construction industry and contacted employers on his behalf. Junior also completed CDL training as part of CEO’s CDL Pathway and was able to obtain a Class B commercial license. After working on the CEO crew for three months, the DOT foreman told Junior that the city was hiring and that they would like him to apply for a full-time position.

“I was proving myself as a good worker with an excellent work ethic,” Junior said. “I remember that foreman telling me that every day at work is a job interview for a future position. And he was right.”

CEO’s staff helped Junior polish his resume and prepare for the interview. Still, before he could work for the state of New York, he would need a certificate of release from his parole officer – a requirement that usually took three years after being released from prison to get.

But thanks to his advocacy and support from CEO and Senator Cooney, Junior got the call one week later that he would be hired.

“I am very grateful for the opportunities that CEO gave me, and I’m proud that I worked so hard to prove myself,” said Junior. “I did the work, but they went the extra mile.”

Junior continues to work with CEO as a member of the Policy Committee, training with other formerly incarcerated committee members on how to become an advocate for issues relating to justice reform and employment for justice-impacted people. Most recently, the group met with lawmakers to help them understand the obstacles and stigma one faces after incarceration, and how policymakers can increase investment in quality jobs for justice-impacted people.

“We learn policy so that we can advocate for the people who are still inside and getting ready to come home,” Junior said. “I'm filled with jubilation to be home with my family and have a great career in front of me, and CEO played such a big part in that.”

In 2024, Junior and other Policy Committee advocates will ask the New York State Assembly and Senate to pass legislation to increase “gate money,” or the direct cash support people receive when being released from prison, and to invest in more training and credentialing opportunities across the state.