Drew Doll applied for 138 different jobs in the 30 days after he was released from prison.
“One-hundred-thirty-seven said no,” Doll said, “But I kept at it.”
He landed an accounting job and started putting his life back together. But he was troubled by the experience he had, one that’s familiar to former prisoners. In Durham, more than 60 percent of ex-prisoners are still searching for jobs after a year, and 80 percent are without the skills or work experience they need to get a job, he said.
“When I was in prison, I realized that nothing about the prison experience enables people to be able to survive outside of prison, which is a real problem because so much of our population is stuck in this cycle,” Doll said.
To help break the cycle, Doll, who now works for the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, created Second Helpings. Inspired by Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, which focused on providing jobs for ex-gang members, Second Helpings strives to provide jobs and job skills to ex-prisoners through work in a new food trailer.
“We want to have a work environment where (you’re) having those experiences, where (you’re) learning how to handle job-related issues,” Doll said. “If you mess up you’re not going to get fired; use it as a learning tool.”
Second Helpings is a partnership of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, a faith-based nonprofit that attempts to end neighborhood violence. Community members don’t always trust recently released prisoners, said director Marcia Owen, which can lead to the ex-prisoners’ isolation. If the former prisoners are working and serving food, people will see their skills and personality instead of fearing them, she said.
“Everybody has these assumptions, and almost always they’re wrong when you’ve been isolated from one another,” Owen said.
Along with Second Helpings, the Religious Coalition creates faith teams made up of a small number of volunteers to address the challenges that face those coming home.Ex-prisoners can join these teams and also access the Durham County Criminal Justice Resource Center, which provides education programs, mental health services and transitional housing.
“There are great, talented, intelligent people who want to succeed and start again,” Owen said. “Re-entry is a moment in their lives – in all of our lives – that has huge potential.”
Second Helpings will start as a food trailer with a flexible menu designed by Core Catering. Pat Eder, owner of Core Catering, hopes that her business will give employees the opportunities to learn customer service, money handling, menu creation and baking skills. Employees will be able to switch positions or be promoted.
“They can show that they can do these tasks, do them well and be hired by other places that go into full-time employment,” Eder said.
As a finalist for the Triangle Community Foundation’s 2015 Innovation Award, Second Helpings received $7,000, which offset some of the costs for the trailer, training and certification programs, employee salaries and food. Second Helpings will pay the approximately $12 per hour for a 20-hour workweek.
“The grant gave us the ability to get started because before we got that grant it was a ‘someday I’d like to’ idea,” Doll said. “Getting the money allowed us to jump to 25 percent of the way towards where we need to be to get this launched.”
Eder is optimistic that Durham will accept Second Helpings. She sees the program as a launching pad for those re-entering the workforce and a flexible solution that is not confined to a single structure.
“Second Helpings is the plan, whether it be a truck, a trailer (or) a brick and mortar store,” Eder said. “The Second Helpings vehicle is employing people to serve the community.”
Doll hopes to start serving food in early 2016. He sees the program as part of a much larger community solution. “We don’t hire ex-felons to serve food,” Doll said. “We serve food to hire ex-felons.”