In 2001, one company started hiring mostly ex-cons. 14 years later, here's how it's going.

Jamie Paul has seen trouble.

"When you're young, you don't think about the better way, you think about the quick way. And the quick way landed me places I didn't want to be," he said.


Jamie Paul spent more than 10 years in prison. After his release, he found himself in the catch-22 of wanting a legitimate job but unable to get hired. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

Paul tried earning a living the "quick way." That was after his mother passed away, and he was faced with the burden of supporting his family in Baltimore. But it didn't work. By 2011, Paul had already done three stints in prison — a total of 10 years behind bars.

When he was finally released for the third time, Paul tried hard to go legit. He knew he was a hard worker — a competent worker. Prior to his sentence, he said, he was working and selling drugs at the same time. But like many people with a felony record, he felt trapped — few people would hire him because of his record, which Paul felt was deeply unfair.

"It's not the record that makes the person,” Paul said. "It's the person that makes the person."

But who would give somebody like him another shot? What kind of employer would be willing to trust an ex-con?

In a new series called “Humanity for the Win,” Upworthy visited Second Chance's headquarters with a video camera in November 2015 to find out who was willing to give Paul and dozens of others like him a shot.


Second Chance Inc. is nonprofit deconstruction business in Baltimore. They tear down old houses, save what can be reused, and are employing over 100 people looking for a fresh start after prison in the process.

The work at Second Chance — salvaging old houses — might be the perfect metaphor for the ways the business changes its workers’ lives.

Inside the bright, efficiently run warehouse staffed by dozens of employees getting back on their feet, you’ll find an eclectic collection of every imaginable category of home furnishing, from chandeliers to pianos to a giant, free-standing home bar the size of a gazebo. Working smoothly among the mantelpieces and fixtures, roughly 70% of the workers in Second Chance's deconstruction unit are ex-convicts — and this work is providing a rare path to a new life in this tough part of Baltimore.

“It’s easy to say, ‘They’re lazy, go get a job,’ but go get a job where? Doing what?”
— Ericka Alton

Ericka Alton is a community organizer in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore. She's seen everything in this community — including the direct link between economic pressures, lack of opportunity, and crime here.

"People are selling drugs and participating in illegal activity not by choice, but as a means to survive," Alton said.

Poverty and inequality are major challenges in Baltimore — crime and chronic imprisonment are often the result. But what’s the way out?

While Maryland currently sits atop the list of America's richest states, Baltimore remains one of the country's poorest cities. A 2015 CNN report found that almost a quarter of the city's population lives below the poverty line — and black residents suffer a disproportionate share of economic hardship.

The median household income of whites in Baltimore is nearly double that of black residents. As of 2013, 37% of young black Baltimorean men were unemployed, compared to just 10% of young white men.

That cycle produces increasingly tragic results. Baltimore saw a pronounced spike in homicides in 2015, while violent crime remained virtually flat in most major American cities. It was the deadliest year per capita in Baltimore’s history. According to Alton, many of her current and prospective clients are faced with a stark choice: sell drugs and expose themselves to violence and imprisonment, or remain unemployed.

"It’s easy to say, 'They’re lazy, go get a job,' but go get a job where? Doing what?" Alton said.

There aren’t nearly enough job opportunities available, like the ones offered by Second Chance, to help ex-cons transition into a productive life. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

Second Chance was the brainchild of Mark Foster, who came up with the idea when he realized how difficult it was to find materials for an old house he was rebuilding. Perhaps, he thought, there was a way to reclaim perfectly good, historically interesting architectural elements — the floors, fireplaces, light fixtures, and furniture that typically get junked when old homes are destroyed — and offer marginalized people a path back to society by hiring them to help scout and collect those materials.

"The biggest stereotype is that because we have been convicted that we can't be trustworthy or dependable workers, which is not true."
— Jamie Paul

The organization accepts donations of individual pieces (and sets) of furniture, as well as old doors, bathroom fixtures, and even vehicles from the general public. Entire houses are also on Second Chance's wish list (and donating one allows the giver to receive a tax deduction instead of a large bill for a teardown service).

When Upworthy met up with the Second Chance crew, a deconstruction team was busy tearing down a house in Arlington, Virginia.

"The good thing about salvage is: It's unique. It's old-school. It's fun. It's things that people tend to just brush off."

That’s what Antonio Johnson, a sales manager at Second Chance, said during our visit.

Among the haul were two toilets, a lamp fixture, an air conditioner, a refrigerator, and a dishwasher. The team ripped up dozens of floorboards and struck an old fireplace mantel, loaded it onto the truck, then shipped it back to the warehouse, where it was put on sale for $175.

Sales manager Antonio Johnson with the fireplace mantel unloaded from the Arlington house. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

Johnson, like much of Second Chance's workforce, spent time in prison. He started as a warehouse worker and has been promoted several times during his tenure at Second Chance. Johnson’s doing well — but his ability to succeed has been something that people with a record rarely get a chance to prove.

Photo by Francois Nascimbeni/Getty Images.

Jamie Paul, who’s newer to Second Chance, believes his convictions made it harder for him to get hired. According to the data, he's not wrong.

A National Institute of Justice study found that 60-75% of former prisoners were unable to find work within a year of release.

"The biggest stereotype is that because we have been convicted that we can't be trustworthy or dependable workers, which is not true," he said.

But also, former convicts who try to work again after years in prison often find their skills outdated or obsolete.

"Keeping up, especially for people who have been away from technology for perhaps several decades, is really a challenge," said Scott Decker, a foundation professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University.

A Second Chance deconstruction crew member marks a batch of floorboards with a date and location. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

Decker has interviewed 600 current and former gang members around the country and found a shocking gap in their skills upon release and the current job market.

"I interviewed a woman in her mid-30s in L.A. who had been in prison for 14 or 15 years," Decker said. "She didn’t know how to use word processing, she’d never sent an email, and she said: 'Mister, how am I supposed to apply for a job? I don’t even know how to use a computer. I have no idea how to do a resume other than to get a typewriter.'"

The catch-22: When former prisoners find themselves jobless, they often go on to commit more crimes.

A 2012 study of former Indiana inmates found that unemployment was one of the three factors that correlated most closely with whether a released felon would re-offend.

A job at Second Chance allows an ex-offender a way out of that cycle.

"It has helped me tremendously — financially, not being stressed, or thinking things that I know I shouldn't do, but I might need to do because I have a wife, a son, a baby on the way," Paul said.

A Second Chance crew unloads salvaged items from the Arlington house. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

After a 16- to 20-week training that aims to provide those who enter the program with concrete, transferrable skills, prospective employees are guaranteed a job. Some are able to leverage the training into jobs elsewhere, and the rest — along with those who prefer to stay — are hired by the organization.

"We have a guy who talks about just being proud of being able to go home and having his kid see him in his work clothes," said Pete Theodore, one of the permanent Second Chance management staff.

Most deconstruction workers stay with the company for about a year, he said. After that, the hope is that Second Chance employees can use their new skills and certifications to launch new careers.

"In some senses, I feel like a drop in the bucket compared to the need," Theodore said. "But when you look at a real life, and a real person, and a real story of change and hope, it makes it all worth it."

Second Chance is based in Baltimore but hopes to expand to Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia in the coming years. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

But the path forward is not always simple or straightforward.

A month after Upworthy visited Second Chance, Paul was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault.


"We are accustomed to some setbacks on the road to wholeness — especially given the population we serve," Theodore said.


But Paul remains on the job. Theodore said he was "saddened" by the news, and that Second Chance remains committed to assisting Paul in his career and skill development.

Jaime Paul recently faced a new criminal charge, but the team at Second Chance remains committed to working with him to build a better future. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

"In the long run, this is just a stepping stone to get you out into this world," Johnson said.


Of all the skills gained at Second Chance, confidence is perhaps the most important.


Although his recent arrest may make the road forward bumpier, Paul still hopes to own and operate his own contracting company one day.


"If you can tear something down,” he said, “you should know how to put it back up,"

Watch the video of Upworthy's visit to Second Chance below:


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Should a man lose his home because the grass in his yard grew higher than 10 inches? The city of Dunedin, Florida seems to think so.

According to the Institute of Justice, which is representing Jim Ficken, he had a very good reason for not mowing his lawn – and tried to rectify the situation as best he could.

In 2014, Jim's mom became ill and he visited her often in South Carolina to help her out. When he was away, his grass grew too long and he was cited by a code office; he cut the grass and wasn't fined.

France has started forcing supermarkets to donate food instead of throwing it away.

But several years later, this one infraction would come back to haunt him after he left to take care of him's mom's affairs after she died. The arrangements he made to have his grass cut fell through (his friend who he asked to help him out passed away unexpectedly) and that set off a chain reaction that may result in him losing his home.

The 69-year-old retiree now faces a $29,833.50 fine plus interest. Watch the video to find out just what Jim is having to deal with.

Mow Your Lawn or Lose Your House! www.youtube.com

Cities

The world officially loves Michelle Obama.

The former first lady has overtaken the number one spot in a poll of the world's most admired women. Conducted by online research firm YouGov, the study uses international polling tools to survey people in countries around the world about who they most admire.

In the men's category, Bill Gates took the top spot, followed by Barack Obama and Jackie Chan.

In the women's category, Michelle Obama came first, followed by Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie. Obama pushed Jolie out of the number one spot she claimed last year.

Unsurprising, really, because what's not to love about Michelle Obama? She is smart, kind, funny, accomplished, a great dancer, a devoted wife and mother, and an all-around, genuinely good person.

She has remained dignified and strong in the face of rabid masses of so-called Americans who spent eight years and beyond insisting that she's a man disguised as a woman. She's endured non-stop racist memes and terrifying threats to her family. She has received far more than her fair share of cruelty, and always takes the high road. She's the one who coined, "When they go low, we go high," after all.

She came from humble beginnings and remains down to earth despite becoming a familiar face around the world. She's not much older than me, but I still want to be like Michelle Obama when I grow up.

Her memoir, Becoming, may end up being the best-selling memoir of all time, having already sold 10 million copies—a clear sign that people can't get enough Michelle, because there's no such thing as too much Michelle.

Don't like Michelle Obama? Don't care. Those of us who love her will fly our MO flags high and without apology, paying no mind to folks with cold, dead hearts who don't know a gem of a human being when they see one. There is nothing any hater can say or do to make us admire this undeniably admirable woman any less.

When it seems like the world has lost its mind—which is how it feels most days these days—I'm just going to keep coming back to this study as evidence that hope for humanity is not lost.

Here. Enjoy some real-life Michelle on Jimmy Kimmel. (GAH. WHY IS SHE SO CUTE AND AWESOME. I can't even handle it.)

Michelle & Barack Obama are Boring Now www.youtube.com

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via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

The world is dark and full of terrors, but every once in a while it graces us with something to warm our icy-cold hearts. And that is what we have today, with a single dad who went viral on Twitter after his daughter posted the photos he sent her when trying to pick out and outfit for his date. You love to see it.




After seeing these heartwarming pics, people on Twitter started suggesting this adorable man date their moms. It was essentially a mom and date matchmaking frenzy.

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