Cover Story: Giving convicted felons a second chance

GASTONIA, NC (WBTV) - Giving convicted felons a second chance.  It's part of a program launched Monday in connection with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior holiday.

But Friday night's murder of a restaurant manager in Ballantyne, by a man who police say was a convicted felon, is raising questions about the program and others like it.

The program hosted in Gastonia on Monday has no connections to this weekend's murder, but still it has a lot of people wondering about the risks involved in hiring those with a criminal past.

"Teach how to fill out application.. be presentable."

Christopher Glenn and his cousin David Hope both of Gastonia are looking for a job - just like a lot of people these days.

But there's one strike against these two that's hindering their hiring.

"I got a charge.. a drug charge about ten years ago," said Glenn.

Said Hope, his older cousin, "I don't try to give too much detail. yeah I got a felony. I got myself in a bad position."

The question have you ever been convicted of a crime is a question that can doom a prospective hire.

And those who it's happened to know it.

"I hate I got myself in that position.. if I could just go back everything it'd be all good. And I hate this happened," said Hope.

Should convicted felons have a second chance?

"I have a dream."

Those who knew him say he was all about giving people second chances.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior himself was arrested many times while fighting for civil rights.

It was against that backdrop members of the Eta Mu Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity hosted a workshop Monday for convicted felons seeking employment at the Goodwill Job Connection of Gaston county that was titled "Free at Last - Overcoming a Criminal Record."

"Let them know hey you give me the opportunity I will be the best employee you can be," said Charles Reid, a career development specialist with Goodwill and a fraternity member.

Reid says many with a criminal background regret what happened and in a tough job market like we're in now it's especially important to show them the way to better themselves so they don't go backwards.

"For the ones that may be former offenders.. it is a challenge to open doors for that employment," he said.

A challenge that may become even tougher after events like this weekend's murder at a south Charlotte restaurant.

Rhonda Waldrop Goodwill Career Development Specialist says, "I don't want to classify that person as this well.. they did this.. they did that. You can't. You got to see them as a person like me or you. They're out there looking for work just like.. they made a mistake and they can overcome that mistake."

Human resources experts say a growing number of employers are requiring criminal background checks in order to get hired.

It's about protecting workers' safety and protecting the company.

Employers can't legally reject an applicant solely based on an arrest record, but it obviously does make it harder.

Some companies however are seeking out those who have been incarcerated.

Reasons they give - there could be a tax break in it for the employer, the training they received in prison could transfer, and dedication - they'll be looking out for you since you looked out for them.

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