His boss, F.B. says, sometimes recruits R.J. Donovan prisoners to come work for him. He helps out with finding them housing within the properties the company manages.
“[His business] is not government-funded, it’s out of his own pocket,” says F.B. “So he can [only have] a select, chosen few, [which is based on] people recommending them, or going off of his own judgment.”
F.B. speculates that a friend of his, an inmate with a life sentence who works as a clerk under the guidance of the prison pastor, spoke to his boss on his behalf. As a result, F.B. was guaranteed temporary work with the property-management company until he found another job, but lucked out when a permanent position became available. The boss offered him the job, and now he works in the maintenance and janitorial department. He reports that it has been going well.
Before securing the position, F.B. was under the impression that he would have to seek other work. Still, he wasn’t particularly worried.
“I wasn’t really stressing over it,” he says. “Something inside was telling me, ‘I’m going to be all right.’ Regardless of what’s going on. But [the anxiety] was there. I had my moments where it would get to me, and then I would just talk to myself and say, ‘All right, you’re going to be all right, just push through.’ All you have to do is push through it, and I use that AA saying, ‘Take it a day at a time.’ ”
T.C. also experienced no problems finding employment; he was able to return to the construction job he had before he was arrested.
“My boss actually sent me a lot of money while I was in prison,” he says. “I told him I’d pay him back. I tried to tell him not to send money, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He kept sending me money, sending me money, and I finally told him, ‘You know, I’ll pay you back.’ And he said, ‘It
wasn’t a loan, it was a gift.’ It was cool.”
S.N. speculates he will find work soon as well. At the time of this writing, he is about to attend a job fair that taps San Diego’s population of veterans. He also has an apartment lined up through Veterans Affairs Supported Housing (or VASH), a government-supported program that provides veterans with affordable places to live.
“If I receive a job tomorrow [at the job fair],” he says, “I already have a senior-living place that will house me. Five hundred dollars a month, three meals a day, cable TV, and your own phone.”
Though S.N. found his apartment quickly, locating a place to live can be difficult for ex-prisoners, depending on their circumstances, as T.C. explains.
“Somebody that doesn’t have any support system or any type of family or anything, they’ve only got 100 bucks left out of their gate money, and they have to resort to using that 100 bucks. Instead of getting food, or getting a place to stay, what a lot of people do is they’ll buy a bag of drugs and they’ll sell drugs, try to make their money.”
T.C., who is a lifelong resident of San Diego, had family to pay his rent and keep his apartment and things safe…which has not always been the case for him. F.B., as previously mentioned, received housing from his boss. Until he gets a job, S.N. will be staying with his friend; then he will move into his VASH-provided home.
Usually, though, it’s not so easy. Because of this, S.N. says, once he’s in his own apartment, he will lend a hand to friends that have recently been released.
“Someone that wants to do well when they get out, I want to help them out if I can,” he says. “If I have a place, they have a place to come to. Because the biggest thing about getting out of prison is where the hell you’re going to lay your head that night. Sleeping in Balboa Park is certainly not an option. I’ve done it.”
All three men say that making and maintaining friendships with people they knew in prison is beneficial to them, even when their pals are still inside. Phone calls and letters from friends and family help as well.
“To have contact with the outside world is very important,” says F.B. “It feels good to have it in there, because in there, you feel like you’re all by yourself, alone, nobody cares about you. Those are the types of thoughts that go through your head.”
F.B. also valued his prison friendships, ones based on mutual goals of self-betterment.
“I guess you got to surround yourself with people who are on the same type of deal you’re on,” he says. “It’s kind of like high school, who influences you. So if everybody has the same mind to do right, everybody has an influence on each other to do right.”
On the outside, choosing with whom you associate, according to S.N., is equally important. Those he deems “negative,” in personality and in influence, he does not want within his circle, which mostly consists of former prisoners and parolees.
“I only deal with parolees that work and who are responsible and want to stay off parole,” he says. “You go with a positive attitude and stick around positive people, you don’t go back to prison. I am never going to commit my crime again; that I know. And these guys never want to go back. I don’t parole to get rid of an old prison number [only] to pick up a new one. I hear guys brag, ‘Oh, damn, this is my third number.’ I don’t want to brag about something like that! You should be shot! My goal is all positive, that’s all.”
His dark eyes are round.
“And I’m going to achieve it,” he says. ■
— Rosa Jurjevics