Story and photos by Ike Dodson, CDCR PIO
Office of Public and Employee Communications

Clutching coffee he probably never needed in one hand and his job preparation academy certificate in the other, Kevin Broadnax took a breath and surveyed a throng of tables inside a tent at Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC).

He went to work like a bumblebee, engaging a host of potential employers committed to hiring parolees at Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s 2017 Fair Chance Hiring Fair.

Broadnax was perhaps the busiest person on scene. He shook hands like a politician, collected a bounty of pamphlets and swag and eagerly fielded questions from a host of interviewees — all while maintaining eye contact with warm, friendly responses.

“You want someone to work with you who is in a good mood, is happy and makes other people around them happy,” Broadnax explained. “You don’t want someone who is grouchy, grumpy, mean, sad all the time. You don’t want that.

“My spirit is so good it makes other people feel good.”

Broadnax said he received job offers from Fed Ex and Sweetgreen, two of the 50 companies that hosted 120 graduates of the Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) Los Angeles Central Parole District one-week job preparation soft skills academy at LATTC the week prior.

The course taught parolees how to bolster their résumé, dress the part and develop important dialogue skills during a host of mock interviews.

With a particular air of confidence, most parolees grinned happily as they went table-to-table at LATTC, taking a vital step toward reducing their chance of returning to prison.

“Nearly one in three Americans — 70 million people annually — have criminal records,” LA Deputy Mayor Brenda Shockley said during congratulatory remarks which kicked off the job fair events. “And when you ask them about the biggest hurdle to success after incarceration, they will tell you quickly, ‘It’s getting a job.’

“It’s a big problem, because we know the recidivism rate in California is (44.6 percent), but when the formerly incarcerated are prepared with jobs upon release, housing and support services, that rate drops to as low as 3 percent.”

Broadnax knows exactly what she means.

He was discharged from parole in 1997, only to return to prison two years later.

The resources he found at LATTC should be pivotal in making a difference in his reentry into society.

“Before this, people would come out of prison and never get a chance,” Broadnax said. “When you sign on your job application that you went to prison, your application goes in the trash — you don’t get any action at all.

“But I’m glad to hear about Mayor Garcetti and parole doing this. It really helps us, and it is very beautiful to see a lot of employers here willing to work with us.”

CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan and DAPO Director Jerry E. Powers enjoyed a chance to congratulate the parolees for completion of the job preparation academy and credited the assembly of attending parole agents who worked to make the event possible.

The pair queried agents for feedback before the event and spoke with parolees after recognition of their academy certificates.

“What I see is a changing culture and a changing prison system,” Kernan said. “And it’s because of the men and women working in this department and a change in their mindsets — that it is not just about incarceration.

“It’s about what we can do with an inmate’s incarceration and what we can do to help them be successful when they get out. The skill-building, all of the vendors and jobs which are available to them. It’s all critical to the success of an offender coming out of prison.”

Powers was flanked by a team of parole agents whose commitment to reentry followed academy graduates to the LATTC stage. They provided boisterous support for Powers and fellow speaker Dominique Hughes (Los Angeles Parole Agent III).

“I have about 25 parole agents here, who are really excited about the prospect of you guys getting a job, because it makes their life easier,” Powers said, gesturing to his cheering section. “What you have done is truly remarkable and will set you on the path to reintegrating back into society, being productive neighbors.

“The parole agents care. They want you to get a job and be successful, and the fact that they are here this morning is indicative of how much they do support you.”

Hughes got her own standing ovation from the agents and was visibly pleased by the flurry of activity as parolees were interviewed en masse.

“Today’s event has been amazing, because we were able to assist people with a change in their lives which will hopefully lead to employment,” Hughes said. “It’s a great feeling because all of the hard work, planning and dedication from a lot of the agents and partners over the last month has paid off.

“It’s great to see the looks on the faces of the parolees right now.”

Los Angeles Parole Agent III Douglas Broome played a big role in hosting the event at LATTC and was found beaming outside the job fair tent.

“It’s very exciting, because what we try to do is build a family and give the ex-offenders support, because they need encouragement,” Broome said. “It’s an amazing feeling to come together as a staff with a common goal to better a person’s life so they can get off parole and provide for their family going forward.”

“That’s what it’s all about,” Los Angeles Parole District Administrator Vincent Thompson added. “An event like this makes a difference in the lives of the parolees.”

DAPO can’t take all the credit. The event was made possible by a partnership with the LA Central Parole District and sponsored by Uber, the Coalition for Responsible Community Development, The LA Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission, Office of Reentry, Dress for Success, Clothes the Deal, LIFT (a national nonprofit), the Amity Foundation and of course LATTC.

According to Mayor Garcetti’s office, employers conducted 300 interviews during the job fair and 16 parolees landed jobs on-the-spot. Another 85 job preparation academy graduates were scheduled for follow-up interviews.

Several of those interviews were conducted by Ilisa Juired of Acrobat Outsourcing, a National Hospitality Staffing Firm which employs the likes of cooks, servers, bartenders and concessions workers. She said four parolees were ultimately hired by Acrobat Outsourcing.

“We want to help people get back on their feet and we want people to get jobs,” Juired said. “It’s how they can start a better life for themselves and we offer a ton of great positions for them to be able to do that.”

Secretary Kernan thanked all of the job fair partners during his speech and spoke candidly of CDCR’s commitment to reentry in the years to come.

“In this imperfect system, it’s inspiring to come to events like this and see the communities and employers come together,” Kernan said. “The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the state and the Division of Adult Parole Operations all have to be key partners in this effort.”