Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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April 11, 2014

Aiming for Success gives ex-felons skills for future

Felons hope new laws will help their job search

William Sears wishes there was some way to remove some of his prison tattoos.

The 38-year-old father of two has spent the past four years re-acclimating to life on the outside, but people get a look at some of his tats, especially the teardrop below his right eye, and they make judgments.

“My tattoos and not having a real firm job history,” he replied, when asked what obstacles he faces in trying to land steady employment.

There’s no doubt Sears, who came to a job fair at Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church Wednesday with his wife, Tonya, has done some things he regrets.

But he’s also done his time and he’s removed himself from the California gang life he grew up with. As a further step, he’s just completed a 10-week training program offered by Kokomo’s Gilead House called Aiming for Success.

Aiming for Success isn’t so much a job training program — although it has a component on resume writing and interviewing — as much as it is a re-entry program for offenders, Gilead House director Reba Harris explained.

“We try to teach some of the soft skills — communication, and the importance of relationships and of family,” Harris said. “There’s anger management — how to control their comments and handle conflict. The goal is to help them become more employable.”

Sears, soft-spoken with a deep voice, frankly admits he’d love to be able to get into a job situation where no one knew about his criminal past.

That anonymity could happen sooner rather than later, thanks to changes in Indiana’s laws. Under Indiana’s Second Chance Law, offenders can now petition to have their convictions expunged from the state’s central criminal history repository.

That means employers wouldn’t be able to spot an expunged conviction on a limited criminal background check and now have to rephrase application questions.

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