Through Their Eyes: Struggling to start over after a felony conviction

In Cleveland County you'll find a house as inviting as they come. Fall decorations line the yard as Julia Ross waters the brightly colored flowers.

The 41-year-old likes to decorate when she's not chasing around a toddler or filling out job applications.

"At least 50 and it's a repeated process," she said.

Up I-85 in Charlotte, Gemini Boyd can relate.

"You show me one or two times, when you come back the third time I know how to do it," he said.

Julia and Gemini have never met. but they know each others struggle well. Both have applied for countless jobs and both have received countless no's in return.

"I'm good with retail, I'm very good with the food service industry, waitressing, cooking. I have a lot of skills in mass quantity cooking because I cooked for 1500 people a day," she said.

Julia was cooking for her fellow inmates in federal prison where she served a nine year sentence for drug charges.

"You have lost your kids, your home, the material things. At that point, it doesn't matter. But it's at that point you realize everything is gone," she said.

Gemini spent 20 years locked up for federal drug and weapon charges. He was released in 2015. He'll be the first to admit he made a lot of mistakes.

"I was too young to know the depth of what I was doing," he said.

Gemini thought his release was the start of a new chapter. But writing it has been harder than he expected.

"You go to prison, you come home and you're still doing time because you're being rejected everywhere. I did my time. I don't owe society nothing," he said.

There's a title these two strangers share,"convicted felon". And it's a label they're reminded of every time they fill out a job application.

"You check the box," she said.

Because of those two words, Neither Julia nor Gemini has been able to secure a steady and reliable job to support their families.

"You see that little box and you get nervous. Like, I don't want to tell them because I've been rejected so much because of this," he said.

While in prison, Julia took cooking classes. But says they ended up being pointless since no one can look past her label.

"It's very discouraging. It will lead you process your thoughts into would it just be better to just be doing what I was doing before? But you have to retrain your thoughts an analyze your situation that you will end up back in prison," she said.

Gemini is driving a dump truck, but is searching for a job with benefits. He ultimately hopes to start a non-profit to educate and help young men in similar situations, but he needs a steady paycheck.

"It's right here. Right across your forehead," he said.

Gemini and Julia don't make excuses for their mistakes but they're looking for someone to see them not  as they were, but as they are.

"People just want a chance to work and build a family, they don't want nothing in return as you giving me something. I want something in return as you're allowing me to work for what I want," Gemini said.

WBTV reached out to the Federal Board of Prisons to learn more about the programs in place to prepare inmates for release. They sent the following statement:

"The Bureau's philosophy is that release preparation begins on the first day of incarceration. The Bureau of Prisons offers both vocational training and apprenticeship programs to inmates to enhance job training skills in support of successful reentry back to the community. 

The Bureau's largest inmate program is Federal Prison Industries (FPI, or trade name UNICOR), where inmates learn real-world job skills and gain work experience in such areas as clothing and textiles, furniture, electronics, electronics recycling, services (e.g., call centers, data entry, distribution) and vehicle reconditioning. FPI currently employs approximately 18,000 inmates annually.  FPI inmates acquire proficiencies likely to help them be more marketable after release, such as Certified Welder, ASE Certified Mechanic, CDL Operator, OSHA-certified Fork Lift Operator, Quality Control Technician, DOL Apprenticeships, SAP Manufacturing Systems Expertise, Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt Credentialing, Computer Assisted Design/3D Imaging, and ISO Quality Methodologies.  Research indicates that inmates who participate in FPI are 24% less likely to recidivate than similar non-participating offenders, and 14% more likely to find employment. 

BOP also offers vocational and occupational training, including Cosmetology,  Auto Mechanics, CAD (a commercial computer-aided design  and drafting software application), and Horticulture. Apprenticeship programs include HVAC, Plumbing, Welding, and Electrical Maintenance, where inmates may be able to earn a journeyman's certificate through the Department of Labor, upon completion.  The Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Program is also available at some institutions.  Program categories with the most enrollment currently (interest) are Computer Applications, Building Construction Trades, HVAC and Culinary Arts. The specific programs vary at each institution. Offenders who participate in vocational or occupational training are 33 percent less likely to recidivate, while offenders who participate in education programs are 16 percent less likely to recidivate. 

Many institutions also offer job readiness classes, taught and coordinated by Bureau staff (not via VHS), such as Resume Writing, Interviewing Skills, and Mock Job Fairs, to prepare inmates for their transition into the community."

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