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By Joia Williamson

The St. Louis American

At the recent St. Louis Alliance for Reentry Summit, a crowd of 275 learned about different area programs designed to help ex-offenders become productive, employed members of society.

Culinary workers who recently graduated from a program at Area Resources for Community and Human Services (ARCHS), the principal organizer of the summit, gave attendees an understanding of what ex-offenders go through in trying to move from incarceration to employment.

Sarah McCoy is one of 10 ex-offenders who recently graduated from ARCHS’ culinary training program, cosponsored by St. Louis Community College and Job Corps.

“It’s a process,” McCoy said of job training and reentry. “You can’t lose focus. It’s even harder getting back into society. It isn’t gonna be open arms.”

St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley, City of St. Louis Police Chief Daniel Isom and St. Louis County Police Chief Timothy Fitch all spoke about issues faced by ex-offender reentry, along with state sheriffs, correctional workers and community advocates.

“The ex-offenders still need assistance and don’t know the simple things like tying a tie and some don’t even have a G.E.D,” said ARCHS Chief Executive Officer Wendell E. Kimbrough.

“They’re learning how to reengage with family and how to maximize life skills.”

The mission of the summit was to integrate successful intervention principles and practices resulting in collaborative partnerships that enhance ex-offender self-sufficiency, reduce recidivism and improve public safety and community health in St. Louis City and County.

Kimbrough said the work is not easy because of challenges presented by the target job market: people coming out of prison.

“They’re coming from a world not to trust people,” Kimbrough said.

One of the presenters was one of Missouri’s ex-offender business success stories.

Mike Anders, better known as “Brother Boogie,” is an ex-offender with a non-profit ministry who owns and operates a moving and storage service that hires ex-offenders and helps them find housing upon their release from prison.

Anders challenged attendees and funding sources to offer assistance to businesses like his that are committed to hiring ex-offenders.

“I come to these meetings and walk away with nothing. I need some funding,” Anders said.

“I can hire more men, and there are a lot of things to do in the area – clean up, area beautification. There is enough work in the city of St. Louis that’ll keep us busy five days a week.”

Despite Ander’s complaint of inadequate funding, Missouri Department of Corrections Director George Lombardi said programs that help ex-offenders to reenter the system are vital.

“It’s important for them to work on an issue where they have control over their lives,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi said ex-offenders have transitional housing units in prison, so before they are released they learn about looking for jobs and other life skills.

During this prolonged recession, even the most motivated ex-offenders who take advantage of the available programs are finding jobs scarce.

Sarah McCoy said she feels “a sense of relief” after finishing the ARCHS program, though it did not lead immediately to a job. McCoy said she still has challenging days, but knows she has to provide for herself and family.

McCoy now works as a volunteer until she is able to find employment.

“It’ll work out, and I will volunteer till something comes up,” McCoy said.

“I don’t wanna just exist. I gotta live.”

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