Former prisoners on road to workforce reentry

Standing in a black pinstripe suit, 56-year-old Michael Bohan quoted the final lines of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” to 27 men and women who graduated Friday from a week-long leadership workshop that helps newly released prisoners reenter the workforce.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference,” he read.

Bohan, who graduated from HOPE For Prisoners’ reentry program in June 2011 after serving three years for armed robbery, said the support from his mentors kept him motivated.

“I was getting rejection of not passing background checks, and it was one thing after another,” Bohan said. “But I kept knocking on those doors.”

As he spoke, heads nodded and murmurs of agreement came from the group of ex-offenders, most in their 30s to 40s, who will begin seeking employment at local businesses.

According to founder and CEO Jon D. Ponder, only around 15 of the 400 who have completed HOPE for Prisoners’ program have reoffended, which is why many ex-offenders — some still waiting to be released from transitional facilities — are lining up to join. Ponder said the organization’s wait list has around 360 men and women.

HOPE for Prisoners’ 18-month process focuses on securing employment for ex-offenders while they attend leadership workshops and participate in mentorships. Those in the program are required each day to turn in at least five job applications, but they also receive help from special advocates who reach out to employers on their behalf.

“You’re not just hiring an ex-offender,” Ponder said. “You’re hiring an army of people that are here to make sure that this individual will show up at 8 a.m., that he’ll be a good employee.”

Through the Silver State Works Program, employers can receive a number of benefits — such as $2,000 in real money — for hiring dislocated workers including unemployed ex-offenders.

A month after he graduated from HOPE for Prisoners’ program, Bohan left Casa Grande Transitional Center and got a part-time job as a server through a friend who introduced Bohan to banquet manager Mark Euffa.

“We work with so many different people, and everybody has a different story,” Euffa, 65, said. “So I said we’ll give you a shot, and it worked out.”

Contact Melissah Yang at myang@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0491. Follow her on Twitter @MelissahYang.