Day Reporting Center client continues to struggle with job search

November 30, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

Editor's note: This is another in an occasional series of stories about the Franklin County Day Reporting Center and those to whom it offers a second chance.

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Stacy Spoonhour cried quietly when she said it was hard to give thanks in the hours leading up to Thanksgiving.

"We're homeless right now," she said.

By most accounts, Spoonhour has been doing everything right as she turns around her life after a felony conviction for possession with the intent to deliver cocaine. Her attendance at Franklin County (Pa.) Day Reporting Center life-skills and substance-abuse classes has been nearly perfect, and she's actively applying for jobs.

But the felony on her record seems to be keeping potential employers from hiring her after interviews.

"They all say the same thing: We'll have to check with corporate. ... They see the felony and that's it," said Spoonhour, 29.


"People with a criminal history are so highly stigmatized," said Roberta Meyers-Peeples, director of the advocacy organization H.I.R.E. Network.

Today's employers have larger hiring pools and easier access to criminal records, Meyers-Peeples said.

"They use that information to judge a person often before they look at their qualifications," she said.

A month ago, Spoonhour, a self-described "good worker," was saying she wanted a job so she could get an apartment by Christmas for the sake of her two children. Now, the need has become more urgent, as she says she needed to move from her cousin's home after the landlord discovered the extra inhabitants not listed on the lease.

Last week, Spoonhour, her mother, 8-year-old Natalia and 7-year-old Nishawn were planning to stay in a motel room for as long as their money allowed.

"I hate taking them through this," Spoonhour said, saying the children were initially handling the transition in good spirits.

On an average day, Spoonhour wakes the children and helps them get ready for school. She does homework for Day Reporting Center classes, then reads the newspaper classifieds and fills out job applications.

Meyers-Peeples said people in a position like Spoonhour's find jobs important for several reasons, such as societal expectations, the need to get their lives on track and earning money for survival. The H.I.R.E. Network finds that women, especially, seek jobs and stable housing to retain custody of their children and care for them.

"It requires employment and being self-sufficient," Meyers-Peeples said. "It's at the forefront of people's minds. I have to get a job to get out" of the cycle.

Spoonhour fears the felony hindering her job search might also work against her in finding low-income housing. Spoonhour's case manager at the Day Reporting Center provided her with a list of places, but she hasn't placed much hope in it.

Spoonhour said she's sick with stress; her eyes look starkly lifeless, as they did in jail.

"I wonder how I'll support them," she said of her children.

Meyers-Peeples said society often falls short when providing second chances.

Money is spent on drug and alcohol treatment and life-skills training, "but then we kind of throw people out there because employers are not being held responsible," Meyers-Peeples said. Pennsylvania has an anti-discrimination law, but the economy makes a job search more difficult for someone with a criminal record, she said.

In light of the slumped economy, the H.I.R.E. Network is pushing for increased training and education for people transitioning from jail to the community.

"It's hard just all the way around," Meyers-Peeples said.

Cities tend to have more organizations that aid rehabilitation.

"Across the country, you don't find that in the suburbs," Meyers-Peeples said, saying the business community needs to help.

"It just makes more sense economically to have people working, contributing to the community and taking care of themselves," she said.

For Spoonhour, family supports are minimal, since she doesn't talk to many of her relatives. Spoonhour said her mother struggles with emotional and mental health issues that started with the death of her husband 20 years ago.

The anniversary of her stepfather's passing continues to affect Stacy, as well.

"It never stops," she said.

Spoonhour was nearly homeless once before. The promise of quick money led to Spoonhour's drug sales and October 2008 arrest. Although she admitted the temptation to deal returns occasionally, she called her actions "a big mistake" and said she wouldn't want to be in jail -- and away from her children -- any longer.

"I'm not going to give up. ... I hope it gets better," Spoonhour said.

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