PARTICIPANT SUCCESS STORIES

Individuals with conviction histories have unique experiences and strengths that are valuable to any employer. At CEO, we strive to provide the support that is needed to help with their transition and that will impact their lives indefinitely. We recognize their tenacity, courage, and dedication. We are hopeful that their stories will inspire you.


Raheem Bethea

“Getting a paycheck is great & staying busy makes sure that I don’t get caught up in the things I used to do. I love being a foreman and leading a 12-man crew.”


Before Raheem was released from prison, he knew that he would need to make a certain amount of money in order to survive and to take care of his family. Once he was released, he was faced with the harsh reality that not only was it hard to find a job, but even more importantly, it felt impossible to find a job that paid enough to care for his family.

Raheem received many job offers, even for entry-level positions making minimum wage, but as soon as the background check would come back, he knew he was in for another disappointment. It felt to him that the synergy was great during the interview, but as soon as the background check would come back, the potential employer forgot about their conversation and immediately began to judge him for the poor choices of his past.

Eventually, Raheem was offered an entry-level, minimum wage position working for an asbestos abatement company. He remained optimistic that his work ethic would speak for itself and eventually he would receive a raise in pay and promotion, which thus would allow him to be the provider he dreamed of being. And this in fact came true!

Raheem is thriving in his workplace and feeds off the energy of his employer. He is now a leader at the company. He feels like the soft skill lessons he learned in prison—including reading body language and dealing with different personalities - has uniquely positioned him for success and to lead others. To Raheem, employment is critical because it provides the opportunity to live, not just survive.


Bagner Gonzalez

“Employees who have been incarcerated are grateful to work and can be the next leaders you are looking for.”

Bagner received a job fair flyer with a construction position that was interesting to him -- he thought to himself he had nothing to lose so he made plans to attend the very next day. To prepare for the interview, he diligently researched the company and became familiar with the company's mission and goals. He impressed those who were conducting the interview because he was prepared and was able to seamlessly convey his interest in the position. He was hired on the spot!

Bagner is currently a crew lead and has immense responsibility ensuring that the construction site is operating safely and that each represented union is informed of their duties for the day. While Bagner enjoys working construction, what he likes most about his work is the consistency, the challenge and the opportunities for leadership. Before landing this position, Bagner would often wonder when he would stop being rejected because of a poor choice of his past—he knew he had the skills and work ethic that any employer would want, but he constantly faced rejection which felt defeated.

Bagner persevered, and not only is he employed full time, but he is also a student pursuing a degree in computer information systems. He hopes to use his degree to counter his criminal convictions and have the credentials to keep advancing professionally.


Audrey Mayo

"I play an important part of the team…people don’t look at me funny, they’ve accepted me."

Audrey knew that she was at the right place, when her boss jumped in alongside her to get a task done. This showed Audrey that she was valued and everyone worked as a team. When she came home from incarceration and began her job search, Audrey sought an opportunity to show what she could do without being judged, a place where she could work diligently, and to “be a part of something.” After facing a lot of rejection, that is exactly what she found!

Audrey currently works as a forklift operator, the only female forklift operator in her company, and since her first day has felt a sense of connection to the company’s values, a priority for her. She loves that there are clear expectations of what needs to be done, and at the end of the day she walks away feeling accomplished and proud.

Audrey reflects on the time when she was struggling for a chance and now she is working 12-hour shifts. While the paycheck is nice, Audrey appreciates that she holds an important position within the company. “I play an important part of the team…people don’t look at me funny, they’ve accepted me…and other employers should know that too…give people a chance, you may be amazed,” said Audrey.


Terry Timberlake

“A legit job makes a huge difference; it gives me the stability to depend only on myself, a job is critical to anyone coming home.”

Terry was employed for 21 years before he became incarcerated. When preparing for release, Terry never imagined the disappointment he would feel while searching for employment. He knew that he had many skills to offer an employer and he was certain that his dedication, ability to learn quickly and personality would be a benefit to any employer. Unfortunately, he continually was rejected because of his criminal record, even for jobs that he was overqualified for.

Terry also found himself job hunting while amid the COVID crisis. Not only did he return from incarceration to a completely different society as a result of the pandemic, but he was also looking for a job when many people were being laid off and businesses were being forced to close. Even as Terry faced what seemed to be unscalable walls, he remained optimistic. Really, Terry just wanted an opportunity to provide for himself—a roof over his head, food to put in his stomach, and a reason to get up every morning.

Terry’s parole officer was frustrated that he was having such a difficult time finding work, so the parole officer began to lend his support. Eventually Terry was admitted to an on-the-job training program which helped him obtain full-time work. Terry states, “even when I was making minimum wage, I worked like I was making a million. I believe my good attitude has helped me be successful in my journey!”

Terry really loves that his employer is not judgmental and allows him the opportunity to be rewarded for his hard work. Employment is important to Terry because “a legit job makes a huge difference; it gives me the stability to depend only on myself, a job is critical to anyone coming home.” His biggest challenge was hearing a lot of “no’s” and having the courage to look adversity in the eye and stay persistent no matter how discouraged he felt. He states, “all of the interviews I went on went well however once they mention the background check, I knew I would end up being disappointed. It is hard to swallow knowing you are a great fit for the position but are discredited because of your past mistakes.”

Terry is employed by a manufacturer and is currently saving his money so he can start his own business within the music industry. Every paycheck and every hour worked means so much to Terry. Terry’s advice for employers is to “give people the opportunity to show that they have changed.”


Sam Garcia

"We are worthy to be part of the company."

Sam came home after serving 16 years in prison. While some people may think that getting released after serving so much time would be a relief, Sam knew the barriers that were ahead of him, one specifically being employment. Sam knew that he would need to go the extra mile, and that is exactly what he did.

Question: Tell me about your employment journey.

Answer: When I came home from prison, I wondered where I would work and who would take a chance on me. People see us for our past mistakes, and I knew I was going to have to work harder to get a job. While I was in prison, I prepared the best way I could which was really about learning how to present yourself. I learned to manage chaos and this became a huge asset to working in a high-pressure work environment. My parole officer knew I was struggling to find work and he sent me to an agency that specifically helps people coming home from prison. Through my work with them, I felt more confident and learned how to speak to someone to also gain their confidence. This was critical to interviewing. Eventually, I earned a job as a delivery and salesperson and quickly moved my way up in the company. Now, I am responsible for hiring, training and supervising a large team of employees.

Question: What makes a job good?

Answer: My job is good because I know my boss cares for me. He calls me regularly to check-in, and not specific to work. He calls me to see how I am doing, and that really means a lot. While I enjoy my job, what I like the most is the connections and the relationships that I’ve built while working there.

Questions: What do you look for in an employer?

Answer: I look at an employer’s mission statement and see if their actions align. It is important to me that my employer establishes a sense of community between the co-workers.

Question: What was your first day like on the job?

Answer: I was so nervous as I did not know what to expect. Everything was new to me—I had to learn to speak their language and use their computer systems. As you can imagine, computers had changed dramatically since the time that I was incarcerated. However, I built confidence with repetition. Eventually, I learned what to expect and I began to trust my supervisor. I now look back and realize how much a trusting relationship is critical to success.

Question: What do you want an employer to know about hiring someone with a conviction history?

Answer: We are worthy to be part of the company. A lot of people where I come from never have had self-worth and employment helps provide that.


Skylar Feigel

While in prison, Skylar realized that the food he was served was very unhealthy and packed with carbs and sodium. He also observed that people leaving prison were often unhealthier than when they arrived. Once he was released from prison, he made a conscious effort to eat healthier foods for his personal well being. Little did Skylar know that a personal passion would soon turn into a profession.

Skylar was released from prison with nothing. He had no clothes, no ID and no way to support himself. In addition to this, he had to get used to a new routine, including adjusting to his housing situation. He was certain that once he found employment, the tables would turn. He would be able to meet his financial needs and thus no longer worry about surviving which in turn affects his mental health.

Skylar sought help from a local reentry center and worked as a transitional employee for them. One day, his job coach told him about a dishwasher position and Skylar thought he had nothing to lose so he applied. He worked “smart and hard” and is now the Lead Prep Chef. Skylar specializes in anti-inflammatory foods and is planning on opening a business where he could employ people who are experiencing “troubled times”.


Juan Santos

"Sometimes people hide their record because they are ashamed, but it doesn’t mean that they are a bad person."

Juan is a great example about how some people were never given a first chance. As a child, he was born into poverty and addiction and was, at an early age, exposed to a life of crime. Juan spent over 30 years in prison but has now made his comeback and has an inspiring story worthy of sharing.

Question: What has your journey to employment looked like?

Answer: When I first came home from prison, for the last time, I knew that I had a choice to make. Either I was going to return to the lifestyle that I was familiar with, or I was going to make a change. I knew how to hustle while living a life of crime. I thought to myself “if I could use these same skills to find a job and be good at what I do, I’ll be much better off.” So that is exactly what I did. At my current place of employment, I went from a construction laborer to a foreman, and it feels great. There is nothing like getting up early in the morning and taking the subway into work. While it has not always been easy, it is worth it. I never would have imagined that with the money that I earned from hard work, I’d be able to buy a car, a motorcycle and never be broke.

Question: What do you look for in an employer that you want to work for?

Answer: Respect, communication and appreciation. Just the other day, my boss called me to tell me that his big boss called him late in the evening to talk about how great of a man I am. The big boss talked about how I am respectful, loyal and a hard worker. It felt really good to know that I am appreciated. Communication is so important.

Question: What does employment mean to you?

Answer: It gives me a purpose and a paycheck. It keeps me busy and keeps me from going back to prison.

Question: What do you want an employer to know about hiring someone with a criminal conviction?

Answer: Sometimes people hide their record because they are ashamed, but it doesn’t mean that they are a bad person. Not every person that goes to prison is bad. Once you earn someone’s trust, they will feel more comfortable talking about their past with you—you cannot expect someone to feel safe on the first day. Also, some of the best lessons I’ve ever learned were learned while I was incarcerated. I learned how to be respectful, punctual and honest—all three characteristics I think are highly desired by an employer.


Danny Gleason

"My biggest challenge was accepting the fact that even though I had the skills, certificates and experience, I would frequently be turned down even though I was qualified for the job."


Danny did everything he could while incarcerated to ensure a smooth transition for release. He obtained many certificates and participated in training programs and self-help groups. Yet, even with evidence of rehabilitation, employers still refused to hire him. But then one day, he got his break that he worked so hard for.

Question: Tell me about your employment journey.

Answer: I came home from prison and obtained a job at a gardening center which was something that I prepared for. While incarcerated I studied horticulture and I thought this was going to be my ultimate destination. However, I learned that even if I was on the career path of my choosing, the environment was critical to me. Working at the gardening center, although it was something that I loved, was not an environment that was conducive to my reentry efforts. I ended up leaving there and getting a job at a glass manufacturing company and, since obtaining employment there, I’ve really flourished. After working there for 13 months, I decided to take a leap of faith and quit my job to pursue my license for commercial driving. After completing the schooling and getting my license, my employer at the glass manufacturing company called me back. He even offered me a driving job. It turns out that I was irreplaceable. In addition to the driving offer, they even gave me a raise. Now, I am back at the company, making decent money and I even have the option to drive trucks if I want to.

Question: What do you like about your current job?

Answer: My job is good because I get along so well with my co-workers, I am appreciated and I receive promotions and raises accordingly. I also like that my supervisor allows me to breathe, provides support and trusts me to do the job. Lastly, I like that I am recognized for the skills that I bring and the experience that I have.

Question: What was your biggest challenge in finding employment?

Answer: My biggest challenge was accepting the fact that even though I had the skills, certificates and experience, I would frequently be turned down even though I was qualified for the job. It is really discouraging to know that people will not give me a chance.

Question: What do you want an employer to know about hiring someone with a conviction?

Answer: Everybody is human—everyone has bills and something or someone to take care of. The choices people make today, are not the same choices that they’ve made in their past.


Christian Carias

"Employment to me means power and freedom."

Christian knew exactly what he wanted when he stepped out of the prison gates. He wanted to be a union construction worker because of the benefits, consistent workflow, productivity and job security. In order to prepare for this career, he enrolled in a construction training program. While in the training program, he took initiative and began to network with the union for his specific trade. Within 48 hours of his outreach, he was dispatched to a company and has been gainfully employed since.

Question: What does employment mean to you?

Answer: Employment to me means power and freedom. I know I have power in my life because I know I am doing what I need to do to live free. It also means stability. Not only does employment affect my financial state, but it also makes me feel good inside.

Question: What was the process like for you to find a job with a conviction?

Answer: What helped me to find employment was establishing a plan. I made a clear path for myself, which was helpful in moments of discouragement. I mapped out my future meticulously and I began to make steps according to the vision. I started at an entry level position doing something that just paid the bills. This gave me stability initially as I worked towards my bigger goal. Once the construction training program became available, I joined the program. Once I became certain of the construction trade I wanted to enter, I immediately started to network. Within no time, I was recruited by a company and now I am employed in a career path of my choosing.

Question: How did you prepare to enter into the workforce?

Answer: Preparing to enter into the workforce was done in two parts. First, I laid out each stepping stone, and then built on the next step. Second, I relied on people to help support me. These individuals helped me put my feet on the ground and have played an instrumental role to my success.

Question: What do you like about your current employer?

Answer: It feels like a family; it is a warm environment. I told them about my background and they accepted me. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!