Updated: Apr 22, 2021
The process of returning to society after incarceration is known as reentry. Across the United States, reentry can be challenging, from the mental hurdle of reintegration to the constant rejection during job interviews.
North Carolina is no exception, with a recidivism rates - or returning to prison - around 40 percent. Against these immeasurable odds, James Twine has made an amazing life for himself and continues to succeed.
When James was released from prison, he faced numerous obstacles. One of his biggest hurdles was understanding and accepting that turning his life around would be difficult. James says, “It's tough understanding that it took me years to hit rock bottom, so it could possibly take me years to come back.”
More than 900 state and federal laws deny North Carolinians a wide range of privileges and rights based on a criminal record. Last summer, N.C. Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 158 to implement fair chance policies at state agencies to increase employment opportunities for people with criminal records.
Still, employers don’t exactly jump at the opportunity to hire those with criminal backgrounds, even when the individual shows promise. James faced the same job hunting barriers as all returning citizens: few or no responses from applications or interviews that never had a call back. Despite the frustration of continuing rejection, James remained determined. One day, he waited in line for seven hours in the dead of winter just to fill out an application for an apprentice program. Five months later, he got a call and an offer at that local apprentice program.
He did not leave his momentum at the door once he obtained the apprenticeship. “All the energy I used to put into negativity went to my job, tenfold.” said James. His hard work and ‘can-do’ spirit have paid off. James was selected to participate in the four-year remodeling project on New York’s famed Madison Square Garden. His work ethic and infectious positive demeanor has left a lasting impression on all of his colleagues, resulting in regular promotions and his ultimate advancement to construction foreman with his own crew of laborers.
We asked him why he thinks so many people struggle to return to society successfully, he responded, “Fear, mostly. Fear of being rejected at job interviews. Fear of losing friends and being looked at differently. The fear of struggling for a better future.”
He advises others reentering society to be patient and remain consistent. “Be prepared to be let down, but do not allow those let-downs define your worth,” he said. “Very rarely is anyone released from prison and adequately equipped to deal with that pressure. But it is possible.”
Now with a beautiful wife and children, James recognizes that life can be better. He has overcome his struggles and looks to achieve more. “I think as far as my career is concerned, I want to climb higher, and I know with my work ethic, my time will come.”
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Braysion Wright is a writer in the North Carolina Community Action Association’s Communications Fellows Program. NCCAA Communications Fellows are students or recent graduates pursuing a career in communications, graphic design, IT, public policy or a related field. They receive a stipend for their participation in the program. For more information on the NCCAA Communications Fellows Program, please contact Yvette Ruffin, director of the NCCAA Communications Fellows Program.