Job fair held for ex-offenders

Published: .
Updated: .

Mary Milz/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - A job fair Monday drew hundreds of ex-offenders trying to get a new start on a career.

Judith Wright is one of the thousands of offenders who leave prison to re-enter the free world every year and run into roadblocks trying to find work.

"Once they do a criminal background check and see you're a felon, your chances are canceled," she said.

The job fair, held at Ivy Tech and also sponsored by the city and WorkOne, brought out many more ex-offenders than expected. Those wanting to take part say it's tough getting a job, especially if you're an ex-offender.

"Basically employers not wanting to hire ex-offenders. We've already done our time. We took all these classes inside of prison. Let's get out there. Let's do it. Everybody's pumping you up to do it and then when you get out here it's like sorry, you did that a long time ago," said one man waiting in line.

Helping ex-offenders re-enter the community and find jobs is a top priority of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.

"Because I'm on home detention and it's mandatory to be here," said Stephanie Powell. "I'm a double felon trying to get a job."

"I just want to get a job, I want to work. It's hard out here," said Robert Hester. "Who wants to live off the system? Let's do it, let's pop."

Scores of potential applicants were turned away because they didn't pre-register or weren't from Marion County, causing some frustration. The registration process was open for two weeks.

"It's a lot of good effort, but not any accomplishment," said ex-offender Justin Epperly. "And if anyone is on probation, you know effort isn't good enough, you have to have a job."

Attendees had to attend workshops on things like interviewing before meeting with prospective employers Tuesday.

"I've been out six months and I've been to all the temporary services and not found a job, but this time, I'm hopeful," said Roger Brewer.

One of the biggest challenges is finding employers willing to hire. They have space for 40 at Tuesday's job fair, but only 23 signed up.

The employers include IndyGo and Sheil Sexton, a construction company working on the new midfield terminal at Indianapolis International Airport.

"There's a certain reluctance, you have to compete with everyone else and there are a lot of people looking for work, but we're obligated to give these people a second chance," said Kevin Potter with Sheil Sexton.

"One of the greatest reasons leading to recidivism is not finding gainful employment," said Ivy Tech's Tom Darling.

Several former offenders were hopeful the two-day fair would pay off.

"I've done my time in the Indiana State Penitentiary, now I want to do my time in Indiana society," said Joseph Freeman.

Given the interest and need, organizers say there's a good chance this first job fair won't be the last.

Indiana Department of Workforce Development - Learn more about employers, get tips for job seeking, and get info on unemployment benefits.