Mark Walters is trying to get his life back on track, after serving a year in jail. Alcohol dependency led to a series of DUI’s, which led to a title employer’s frown upon -- felon.
“It is scary. That’s something, once you have it, things like that don’t go away,” said Walters.
During his time in jail reality started to set in. Walters had lost his painter’s license, he could no longer provide for his family, and he was missing time watching his son grow up.
“My biggest concern honestly was, what am I going to do for a job and without a license as well?” said Walters.
What Walters didn’t know was that a new initiative by Virginia Cares was expanding its ex-offender re-entry program inside of a local jail.
The organization is constantly working to help find employment for the men and women who are considered to be a less than desirable hire. Shawn Hunter is the employment specialist for Virginia Cares.
“Jobs are so very important because these men and women have to pay fines, some of them have restitution to pay; some of them have child support,” said Hunter. “So if they get out and they are alienated and they can’t find a job, nine times out of ten they revert back to that same behavior.”
Inside of the walls of the Western Virginia Regional Jail, Hunter and other colleagues teach a job preparedness class. It's part of the Transitional Employment Program. They teach inmates how to write a resume and the significance of having a job.
“This program allows us to go to an employer and to tell them, we pay them six weeks of our client’s wages if you take a chance to hire them,” said Hunter.
Hunter knocks on the doors of businesses throughout the Roanoke Valley, hoping that business owners will take a chance on an ex-con. He says some are willing and some are not.
“Most of them are changed men and women and they deserve that opportunity to be able to transition back into society, to be normal contributing member of society,” said Hunter.
Walters is glad to be a part of the Transitional Employment Program. Before his release at the end of January, he already had a job waiting for him in the food service industry.
“I’ve got my first pay check already so I’m able to contribute to the income of the household, which is good for morale,” said Walters. “I think any man wants to be productive.”
Walters is making up for lost time with his family; he’s also in alcoholics anonymous. This summer, he has plans to attend college. He says he’s thankful for Virginia Cares, and for his employer who gave him a second chance.
To learn more about Virginia Care click here. http://www.tapintohope.org/programs/VirginiaCares.html