What ex-cons say they need to stay out of jail

Life after lock up

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Re-entering the workforce can be a challenge for people who have been convicted of a crime.

Employers almost always ask if someone has ever been convicted of a crime, or run some type of background check. Checking the box "yes" can sometimes cost a person a potential job.

People like Mackie Bedard know that disappointment. Bedard has spent 14 out of the last 18 years in and out of Maine's prison system, mostly for commercial theft to support his crack addiction.

"I'd get out of jail, try to find a job, they'd ask the question, 'are you a felon?' Then you have to give them all the details and you don't get a call back," said Bedard. "No one wants you to work for them if you're a thief."

Bedard now works for a number of companies through MaineWorksa labor staffing company specializing in the field of industrial construction. Those employees are available to a number of private entities to perform labor. Founder Margo Walsh prides herself on hiring people in recovery. Many of those are former inmates, convicted on drug charges.

"Without specific support, these guys will absolutely fail, and those are the statistics," said Walsh. "You've been through the valley of darkness. What do you need to get out?"

Walsh's model finds her employees secure jobs and secure housing, which she, and her employees, say is critical to keep them from re-offending and going to jail.

"When I got out, I didn't know where I was going to live, how I was going to make money," said Jeff Wolstenhulme, one of Walsh's employees. "Fear drives a lot of addicts back into addiction."

Wolstenhulme, who paints for MaineWorks, recently got out of jail in November for possession of heroin.

"When you have idle time out of jail, you just end up going right back to the one thing that you know, so well, and that's active use," he said. "It's still hard when they do a background check to see that you have drug possession on your record."

He said the secure job and housing helps prevents him from getting back into drug use. 

"I have a routine now, whereas before it was pure chaos. It's peaceful because I don't have to worry about anything but just painting whatever it is that I'm painting, "said Wolstenhulme.

Walsh said she knows she takes a calculated risk when hiring people who have histories with drug use. She said anyone who relapses or breaks their parole is removed from work, but they have the opportunity to return if she and the management deems them fit to do so.

"No population should be systematically discriminated against without giving them a chance, and we are in the business of second chances, and I'm proud of that," said Walsh.

Bedard said that a boosted sense of self-worth keeps him clean.

"I'm going to work for somebody that cares about me. I feel needed. That's about it right there," he said.

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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