On the second and fourth Sundays of each month, ex-offenders who are walking the straight and narrow come for prayer, fellowship and food at Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio.
Around plates filled with fried chicken, green beans and green salad, men and women talk about looking for work and resisting temptations to return to the lives that took them to jail. The two circumstances are related. Stable employment has been shown to reduce recidivism among older ex-offenders like those who attend the service.
But their chances of finding work are slim. Although no national employment figures for ex-offenders exist, decades of research documents the impact of a criminal record on employability. Their inability to find work stresses a community that is plagued by unemployment and underemployment.
I know this because I've heard about it, twice a month for the last 15 months. I'm the pianist for the prison ministry of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio.
After listening to stories of hopes raised and dashed, I decided to write a three-part series on the employment difficulties faced by African-American ex-offenders and the implications for the larger African-American community.
My stories will provide an in-depth look at a phenomenon that has serious implications for the African-American community and the nation. The series will not only document the problem of ex-offenders and employability; the stories will show how the community is addressing the issue.