Second chances: Youngstown organization helps felons reenter workforce

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Labor Day is a time to celebrate the public workforce but for people coming out of prison, it’s a reminder of just how hard it can be to get a job.

Seven days a week, Lamar Adams cuts grass, trims edges, and blows leaves. For him, it’s a dream come true.

Last August, he finished up a four-year stint in prison.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do but every day I was using as a learning experience of why I don’t want to come back,” Adams said.

Neither did Dionne Dowdy. When she got out of jail over a decade ago, she applied to several jobs and was rejected from all of them because she was a felon.

Dozens of people she knew faced the same problem.

“They were ready to get back in the workforce or they¬†were ready to start their life over again and then they were still being punished,” she said.

So Dowdy created United Returning Citizens, Inc. — an organization that helps felons get back on their feet. They help with everything from housing to employment.

“There is some avenues out there, it’s just finding the resources, connecting the right people together, and creating win-win situations,” said URC Workforce Director SaTonia Johnson.

She said over 80 percent of URC’s clients struggle to find jobs.

“When you’re a convicted felon and you’re applying for a job, and you’re going up against someone that’s been working with no record, that can make it very challenging,” Johnson said. “Society and the government has put in different programs in place to kind of contend with this.”

For Adams, the win-win situation meant starting his own company — URC Lawncare. Now, he can give other returning felons a job and a second chance.

It’s something he and URC hope more people do.

“Don’t turn your nose up or downgrade a person just because they went to prison because there is people like me who have changed and try to better theyself,” Adams said.

Dowdy said returning felons shouldn’t be underestimated.

“You never know what they can do. They can be someone that can save your life, you know? Do your roof, fix your car. They’re people, too.”