Program helped ex-con find a job

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Wayne Anderson struggled to find a job after being released from prison until he contacted RISE, a city program that helps ease ex-offenders' transition into the workforce.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Wayne Anderson struggled to find a job after being released from prison until he contacted RISE, a city program that helps ease ex-offenders' transition into the workforce.
Posted: August 23, 2013

AFTER SERVING nearly two decades behind bars for an armed robbery, Wayne Anderson became a free man early last year.

And with his newfound freedom came the hard part: reintegrating into society.

Anderson, 50, had completed only the 10th grade around the time he started a more-than-decade-long career of robbing jewelry shops and check-cashing stores to survive, he said.

He paid the price with 17 years in prison followed by a stint at a North Philly halfway house. But to employers, Anderson had two strikes against him: Not only was he a high-school dropout, he was an ex-offender.

"Being locked up is easy," said Bill Hart, executive director of the Mayor's Office of Reintegration Services for Ex-Offenders (RISE). "You either comply or not comply. You're housed, fed, medical taken care of. When you make the transition back to the world, we're talking about all of those barriers. You have to figure out, 'Where do I sleep, eat? How will I manage transportation?' "

Anderson, one of 30,000 ex-offenders who return to Philadelphia annually, struggled for six months to find a job.

"After six months of me looking for work opportunities and nothing coming my way, I was getting frustrated and feeling like I would slip up," Anderson said.

But then he found RISE, which assists recently released ex-offenders. RISE helped Anderson with his resume, the interview process, computer training and other skills related to job readiness. Four months later, RISE helped him land a job under the Philadelphia Re-entry Employment Program (PREP), in which employers can receive up to a $10,000 tax credit for hiring ex-offenders.

"Ex-offenders are the hardest to employ beyond any other demographic," said Councilman Wilson Goode Jr., who sponsored legislation to create the program five years ago after partnering with Mayor Nutter, who vowed during his election campaign to focus on the issue.

But employers didn't bite until some tweaks were made to the legislation in 2010, which included expanding it to allow nonprofits to participate. In the past two fiscal years, 288 ex-offenders obtained employment under PREP, according to RISE.

Anderson now works for a cleaning company that services the Pennsylvania Convention Center and other major venues, earning $10 to $13 an hour, and is on track to receive his high-school equivalency diploma.

He's temporarily out of work now because of an injury, but his employer has said he will have a job when he recovers.

Anderson aspires to helping steer at-risk youth away from the streets, but for now he's taking it one day at a time.

"Hopefully down the line, I'll get a chance to make more money and do something more," Anderson said.

To learn more about this tax credit and others, visit the city's website at phila.gov/revenue or call the Revenue Department at 215-686-6434.


On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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