MILWAUKEE – A new organization in Milwaukee connects formerly incarcerated people with jobs.
The way out was started by Eli Rivera and Ruben Gaona. The two men grew up in Milwaukee and both spent time in prison.
“I started making marijuana in my early twenties and ended up going to jail for it,” Rivera said.
But when Rivera came out he said he was one of the lucky ones who was able to find work. He heard stories from other men who couldn’t find jobs and ended up behind bars.
Although employment has been shown to reduce recidivism, according to the Brookings Institution, only 55% of those formerly incarcerated find employment in their first year of release.
Years later, Rivera’s own experience and the stories he heard from others inspired him to start The Way Out with Gaona. 2019 was when the idea started to take shape, 2020 was about building the organization, and 2021 was the first full year of setting up and running the organization.
“This is truly a golden opportunity for us to prove how valuable we can be to the workforce, those of us who have been touched by the law,” Rivera said.
So far, The Way Out has connected more than two dozen formerly incarcerated or justice-related job seekers with employment. Rivera said the goal is “to ensure that those affected by justice are presented to employers by removing their employment history, name, zip code. Anything that may result in implicit or other bias from the part of the employer “.
One of those people is Toran Brooks.
Brooks said he started engaging in illegal activity at a young age.
“I ended up getting shot when I was 17. I ended up going to jail when I was 17. Sentenced to 45 for second degree manslaughter,” Brooks explained.
He was released in March 2021 after 24 years of sentence. He described the first half of his time in prison as “difficult”.
“It was a time of adjustment for my family and then I also had to face my conscience for the acts I did,” Brooks said.
But, eventually, he realized he had to start thinking about when he would be released and what he would do with his future.
“When they released me, I wanted to have as much knowledge and as many trades under my belt as possible. During my incarceration, I chose several trades. Everything from welding to dog grooming to training. of dogs and the culinary arts, ”said Brooks. noted.
And some of those skills got him a job after connecting with The Way Out at an event hosted by EXPO (Ex-incarcerated People Organizing).
In less than a year, Brooks rose from prison to director of operations at Dogtopia, thanks to the connections established by The Way Out.
“I’m a big dog lover, it’s my passion,” Brooks said of his job at dog day care.
At Dogtopia Brooks does everything from training, grooming and supervising dogs. The Way Out continues to support and stay in touch with Brooks through the organization’s “My Way Out” mobile app.
The organization and app also help connect employees with social services who need to make sure they are able to be successful at their jobs.
“We want to make sure that before we find them a job, they don’t worry about housing, health care, transportation or any other issue,” Rivera said.
Newly affected job seekers can start by moving to The Way Out website to complete an integration request. From there, someone from The Way Out will contact you. Employers can also contact the organization to connect with potential employees.
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