Ex-offenders: Making a new start

Rico Green

 

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – For ex-offenders wishing to take their first steps in rejoining the workforce and the community, the Pinellas Ex-Offender Re-Entry Coalition (PERC) can show them the path.

PERC is an ex-offender outreach program that provides a number of re-entry services to those who are being released from prison or jail or have criminal backgrounds. Some of the many services include resume writing assistance, connection with various educational programs, specialized classes in anger management and life skills, an outpatient substance abuse group and even job placement assistance.

It’s all about helping people make a new start, said Rico Green, an ex-offender who now works as a case manager at the midtown location of PERC.

“We work with companies that are corporate and have various locations within the community,” Green said. “We also try to connect a person with a job that will allow them sustainability.”

PERC, which has offices in Clearwater, south St. Pete and Tarpon Springs, can provide assistance with enrollment fees for GED classes or refer ex-offenders to educational center and programs such as St. Petersburg College, Pinellas Technical College or YouthBuild. Some of the programs pay stipends for being a participant, Green added.

In addition to assistance with job placement and education, PERC also works with apartment complexes, leasing agencies and private owners to assist ex-offenders in finding housing as well.

“We also connect people with transitional housing, typically 12-step,” Green said, “in addition to last-minute emergency shelters.”

PERC was launched in 1990, and Green himself got involved with the program in 2003 after serving a yearlong jail sentence. PERC is actually a coalition of different community-based programs that addresses the needs of ex-offenders, Green said.

Green grew up in south St. Pete and from 1997 to 2002 he was arrested at least once a year, he explained. While attending Gibbs High, he said he was a good student but craved “a sense of acceptance” from others, and ultimately turned down a different path and started selling drugs.

“I didn’t have to,” he pointed out. “I grew up in a two-parent household, spoiled kid, got what I wanted. It was a conscious choice I made to create an image for myself.”

Green now considers himself “blessed” for only receiving a one-year jail sentence for the charges against him in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. He took that time to get involved with a program called Project New Attitudes, which changed his life. Green took part in the program for 27 weeks, and working with mentors he started on a journey of self-rediscovery.

PERC Executive Director Michael Jalazo said Green is the perfect example of how you can turn your life around.

“He has an extensive history but he’s always worked hard and he tries to do the right thing,” said Jalazo. “He wants to do more in the community to give back. He’s been a great asset for us.”

Jalazo met Green in a program PERC was conducting at the Pinellas County Jail. He said Green worked really hard in the program and when he graduated he was hired on.

“When someone who wants to change their lives and actually participate post release, they are successful,” remarked Jalazo, who revealed that Green will be moving into a new program dealing with at-risk youths.

Green warns against ex-offenders developing a sense of hopelessness. Even prisoners who have served long prison sentences can use any experience they have accrued while incarcerated to help them find work once released. Working in a kitchen, for example, or working in landscaping may prove valuable in finding employment.

“I went through it,” he said. “So I find it rewarding to assist other ex-offenders that are going through the same thing that I went through and show them that ‘hey, there is a light at the end of the tunnel’ and show them that there is hope.”

Both Green and Jalazo were manning the PERC booth at the 20th Annual Showcase of Services for the Ex-Offender Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Pinellas Technical College.

In partnership with the City of St. Petersburg, this year’s showcased featured a job fair with employers hiring on the spot. Also, more than 40 social services agencies were present, including Goodwill, the WorkForce Institute at St. Petersburg College, Habitat for Humanity and Pinellas County Veterans Services.

To find out more about PERC, visit exoffender.org or call (727) 954-3993.

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