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Practicing for success

September 19, 2000

Practicing for success



By DON WORTHINGTON / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

Mock InterviewOlis Hardman, a recruiter for Citicorp of Hagerstown, liked much of what he saw on William Roten's resume, especially the part about him being valedictorian of a recent business management program at Hagerstown Community College.

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Roten was prepared for the "interview," Hardman said. "He showed interest, was positive and very direct with me."

Roten was an attractive job candidate, but even if the interview had been real, Hardman wouldn't offer him employment. Company policy and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation regulations would keep Roten from working at most of the jobs at the company's local credit card call center.

Roten, 29, is a convicted felon, serving time for a theft-battery conviction at the Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown.

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"The charges, the breach of trust, dishonesty would be a problem. That's the reality, you have to face it," Hardman told Roten, who has served 7 1/2 years.

Overcoming that reality was one of the topics Tuesday as Roten and 59 other inmates participated in mock interviews with employers from across Maryland. An additional 180 vocational education students listened to speakers as part of Career Fest 2000, a day-long event to help inmates hone the job interviews skills they will need to succeed when they're released from prison.

It was the first time the Maryland Division of Corrections has held the program at the Maryland Correctional Training Center. The event was co-sponsored by the state Department of Education and the Council on Management and Productivity.

"It was a chance for the inmates to sell themselves and learn the little nuances of job interviewing, how to speak for themselves, dress themselves, prepare their resumes," Warden Mike Stouffer said.

Roten and others took advantage of the opportunity.

"I tried to be as honest as possible," Roten said. "It was unusual in that I got the chance to speak to people that are not using slang."

"I was kinda' nervous, all the butterflies," Durrell Blackman, 29, of Hagerstown said.

Nonetheless, Blackman said the tips he got from Pete Madeo, human resources manager of the Hagerstown Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream operation, were positive and productive.

Blackman said the tips probably would help him prepare for his job search when he completes his sentence for reckless endangerment in a year.

Tuesday's program was open to inmates enrolled in education, employment readiness and case management programs. About 8 percent of MCTC's 2,985 inmates were involved in Career Fest 2000.

The event also was a chance for the Division of Corrections to sell itself to visiting employers and to let them know that many of the inmates have the skills they seek.

The inmates' pasts are hurdles that are difficult to overcome, employers and Division of Correction officials acknowledged.

Many employers have no patience for a thief and are more likely to hire someone who was convicted of murder, Diana M. Bailey, director of the Prison-to-Work Project, said.

Employers also don't want to hire those with drug use or drug-related problems in their past.

"We try to sell employers that our work force is cleaner" in terms of drug use than people they might hire off the streets," Bailey said.

Terry T. Schanz, director of human resources and safety for Gray & Sons Inc. of Butler, Md., said hiring former inmates can be a better option that hiring someone who comes in off the street. Given the current job market, Schanz said there is a 50-50 chance when he hires someone they will leave shortly after taking the job. He recently hired eight former Maryland inmates, however, and seven continue to work for Gray & Sons, a paving and utilities contractor.

The biggest problem Gray & Sons faced was convincing supervisors the new hires could be trusted, Schanz said.

The low unemployment rate made considering hiring former inmates a viable option, several company representatives said at Tuesday's Career Fest.

"I told the inmates they have no better chance of getting a job than right now. Employers will give them a chance in a heartbeat, but they will only give them one chance. Don't show up for work and you are out of there," Madeo said.

No job offers were made Tuesday. But at previous events at other Maryland prisons, "business cards, applications do cross the table," Bailey said.

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