“Recognizes Beyond The Conviction”
The Kansas City Star
December 5th, 2007
Date: August 22, 2007
Section: Front Page
Counselor helps ex-felons find jobs
MALCOLM GARCIA, The Kansas City Star
Patrick Danley brushes aside doubt with a preacher’s zeal. “What you want to do, bro?” he asked an ex-felon on a recent day. “Anything.” “Dream.” “I don’t know, for real.” “Think. I’m not here to waste your time,” Danley said. “You sold drugs. Now you have to use those same skills looking for a job and you can get work and make more money than you ever did hustling.” The roomful of ex-offenders in his small 18th Street office nodded, although a few seemed doubtful. Too many doors have shut in their faces. That one box on an application – Have you committed a felony? – does them in every time. Danley, 37 and an ex-felon himself, insists it doesn’t have to be that way. Since November, when he started his nonprofit, Beyond the Conviction, Danley has encouraged ex-offenders to not give up the pursuit of jobs. Of 48 he has worked with this year, 15 found work, he says. “Patrick has been a blessing for our organization,” said Wayne White, executive director of Footprints, a Kansas City faith-based agency that works with recovering substance abusers and their families. “We just started working with him two weeks ago. In his first class of 10 people, he got two people jobs within a week. That’s different. It usually takes longer.” A combination of inspirational speaker and hands-on counselor, he preaches a gospel according to Patrick. That is, skills used in criminal activity have a place in legitimate work. “Guys who used to strip cars get jobs in auto repair,” he said, pacing in front of the room, slick in a bright orange shirt, matching tie and creased tan slacks. “They’re the best body guys around.” Primarily through a handful of volunteers, Beyond the Conviction offers interview training, job leads, resume and computer workshops, and employment advocacy. Most important, Danley offers encouragement.
&nsbp;One 25-year-old, who like others in Danley’s class didn’t want his name used, listened intently to the pitch. He served four years for second-degree robbery. Released in 2006, he can’t find steady work. “I tell employers the truth and they tell me they won’t hire ex-felons,” he said. “I did my time. It shouldn’t be held against me forever. Prison was the worst thing I did to myself. If that wasn’t punishment enough, I don’t know what is.” He and the rest of Danley’s class are but a small number of former prisoners seeking employment in the area.
About 19,000 prisoners are released each year in Missouri; in Kansas, 5,800. Within five years, half are back in prison, most within the first year, often for parole violations. A survey of Missourians released between 1996 and 2005 found that of those who successfully completed probation or parole, 73 percent were employed. About 65 percent of those violating parole or probation were unemployed.
“They are not locked away forever,” said the Rev. Gene Purtle with The Keys Are at the Cross Prison Ministry in Raytown. “We can help make them successful or make it so difficult they revert back because they’ve had no chance.” Connections to Success, a nonprofit serving Missouri, Kansas and Illinois, provides services designed to break the cycle, advising ex-felons to stress skills learned in prison. “Did they get their GED, for instance?” said Brandi Jahnke, regional director in the Kansas City office of Connections to Success. “They need to bring it back to the positive things they’ve done and how they plan to move forward.”
Danley started Beyond the Conviction after years of stepping backward himself. He has been convicted of drug possession and trafficking as well as gun possession. His last bust was in 2003 for ID fraud. In high school he worked as a grocery checker for $3.50 an hour but noticed men in his Kansas City neighborhood making much more money by selling marijuana. He kept his day job but began selling marijuana and later crack cocaine. When he attended college, he said, his marijuana sales took off. He moved out of the dorms and into an apartment and sold pot between classes. By his graduation in 1997, he’d lost faith in education. Barely 22, he earned more than his professors. Despite his cash flow, he began to see the contradictions of his lifestyle. “You break it down, a criminal really earns only a few dollars an hour,” he said. “All those hours packaging, the sleepless nights, no friends, no pension benefits. If I had switched my energy to a legal venture that pays, I would have made more money without the risk.” Still, the risks didn’t stop him. In 1998, he was caught in Texas with 100 pounds of marijuana. Released after six months, he headed to Indiana for a fresh start. He eventually worked at various nonprofits as a job counselor. In 1999, he returned to Kansas City. A barber chair stands in the corner of the spare office at 1601 E. 18th St. Mr. Danley has a barber’s license and a certificate as a physical trainer and soon will have a bartender’s license. These jobs allow him to work nights and support Beyond the Conviction. “If you have an interview, I can help you with pre-employment grooming,” he tells them. “Basic stuff. I can’t be doing perms, but I can crisp you up.” Danley finds women want to change more than men, who get frustrated more easily. But the women, too, get discouraged. “I tell an employer I was in jail and they stop,” said a 36-year-old woman who got two years for possession. “They say they’ll give you a call and I’m out the door and never hear from them. I believe everybody deserves a second chance.” Danley agreed but warned that many need jobs and don’t carry her baggage. Still, looking for work is better than the alternative. “For a long time, I looked at what was around me that could make me money quick,” he said. “Then I began to look beyond my immediate surroundings at what was available without resorting to criminal activity. There’s a lot out there. It’s how we present ourselves.” He paused and held their looks for a brief moment. The inspirational rap, reduced to a simple truth. “Bottom line, we don’t want to go back to prison.”