Venitra finds both a career and self-confidence with reentry support

Jun 28, 2022   |  By Emily Montgomery

Venitra loves her job as a picker at a warehouse in Oklahoma City, OK. She gets excellent benefits and uses the forklift skills she trained for.

However, there was a long period when she was fearful about finding a good position. She was incarcerated during the pandemic and was unsure what work she would be able to do after her release, especially because before being in prison, she and her husband had only worked fast-food jobs.

“With COVID and everything being shut down, just imagine my anxiety, being locked up watching the news,” she said. “Seeing that all fast food places are shut down. So it's like, what is my next move? How will I provide for my family when I get out?”

Venitra was released from prison in 2020 and moved into a transitional living facility. Six months and several failed job applications later, her probation officer referred her to the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO). CEO gave her a transitional job on a work crew cutting grass at different public areas around Oklahoma City.

It was hard work. Venitra had little opportunity for exercise while incarcerated because the pandemic forced the prison into a lockdown, so she struggled with the physical demands of her job on the work crew. But, she didn’t give up. In fact, she said she benefited from the routine that CEO provided.

“CEO gets you ready for just getting up every day and moving around,” she said. “I had to give myself pep talks to mentally prepare myself to go back out there. And next thing you know, I'm slinging along like I was born with it in my hands.”

Within a couple of months of working for CEO and adhering to the rigorous schedule, she found a new full-time job at the Bakery Bling Warehouse, a gourmet cookie company, where she started as a warehouse associate. Venitra had earned her OSHA certification and forklift license through a prison Career Tech program.

After six months, she was promoted to warehouse supervisor. Venitra wanted to share in her success, too. She encouraged her CEO site leader to bring qualified participants to the warehouse to apply to open positions, and he did so weekly, helping many more CEO workers land jobs.

After a year, she applied to her current position at Locke Supply, a plumbing, electrical, and HVAC distributor.

“Because I had CEO advocating for me, they hired me that same day,” Venitra said.

Not only does she enjoy the job, but she also gets great benefits like 401 K contributions and insurance. She was finally able to get dental work done she wasn’t able to afford before.

Venitra said that the support of the CEO’s Oklahoma City staff support not only helped her land her positions, but it also boosted her confidence.

“CEO, they taught me what support truly is,” she said. “I've never had anybody celebrate my success with me or my milestones. I've never had a support system like that. But the true meaning of support is CEO.”