Serving time in jail or prison is hard. But life afterwards can be even harder. Now an ex-offender is trying to ease the transition. This segment of Journeys through Justice is about someone who has experienced that difficulty. He is building a new organization that he hopes will help.
Meg: Serving time for a crime in prison or jail is arduous, as it’s supposed to be. But life after jail can feel impossible - like a maze with dead ends at every turn. Many ex-offenders wind up homeless and jobless because of failed background checks. But one ex-offender is going back to jail to share his story of making it on the outside.
Adam Martin: How you guys doing? (good) Erik brought the cookies..
Meg: it’s 7:30 in the evening and about 100 inmates, all of them men, are seated in a large room at the Cass County Jail.
AM: I'm going to kick it off. Who here doesn't know what F-5 project is?
Meg: They’ve come to listen to a guy named Adam Martin who recently started a company called F5.
AM: The name F5 – are you familiar with a keyboard the F5 function, what it does?
Meg: F5 refers to the key on a computer that refreshes web pages. He wants to help offenders do the same thing with their own lives – by mentoring them. So they can move forward with their lives rather than repeating the past.
AM: Let’s say they were writing a blog about you. And they were writing felon. Left his kids. Right. DIdn’t really leave ‘em but was locked up. Menace to society. On probation, on parole. Right? All that stuff is written about you. When EF 5 gets hit all of that is erased. The other reason F5 is part of the name is that's how many felonies I had when I started the company
Meg: His crimes included stealing, fighting and breaking and entering. Each time Adam got out of jail he’d spiral a bit further down into his addictions. He felt he just couldn’t survive without drugs and alcohol.
AM: Because by this point alcoholism isn't a problem. It's literally saving me from committing suicide. If I just get a couple of drinks in me if I get some drugs right I get some math whatever right it will get me motivated to feel like I'm going to take over the world. And all I need is that little bit to get back in my system and I'll I'll find a job right. I'll start pounding the phone. I'll start hustling whatever I got to do to find. Something.
Meg: Eventually Adam realized that relying on drugs to get his life back wasn’t getting him anywhere. He had to kick his habits before he could move forward. So, he did. And then, he found an employer who was willing to give him a chance at a company called HI-Point.
AM: And so when I got the job at Hi-Point I did more in my first year sales revenue than any other sales rep did in their first year.
Meg: He realized, pretty quickly, that he had skills that transferred well to the legitimate world of business.
AM: I had no technology background I had no sales background if you will. Right. Other than serving tables.
Meg: But he knew how to talk to people and how to negotiate deals – skills that he says many ex-offenders have. He wants F5 to be that bridge to help ex-offenders find those employers and landlords who will give them a chance.
EH: Hey guys my name is Eric Hatch. I have the privilege of owning and running a business so I have some interesting perspective I think. is one of those employers who has said yes to hiring ex-offenders
Meg: Erik owns Hatch Realty in Fargo. He is one of those employers who has said yes to hiring ex-offenders. He says he understands the challenges many offenders face - also from his own personal experience. Years ago Erik was a youth pastor. He was also a gambler who wound up in a lot of debt.
EH: Over 70 thousand dollars of credit card debt before I came clean. I was working a job that paid me 28 thousand dollars a year.
Meg: Erik says he’s grateful that he never went to jail. And now, he’s showing that gratitude by joining Adam in speaking to the inmates. He says he’s willing to hire ex-offenders who show a strong desire to work.
EH: If somebody is of the right hunger and the right desire to be better I certainly would entertain anyone in my and my world who has a record because I have a record as well. It just isn't caught by the courts right. Like I have my sins my mistakes my shortcomings and dang it if I was held hostage to that boy I wouldn't go anywhere.
Meg: Erik ends his talk to the men with a message that’s part benediction part pep talk. It’s a message he hopes will resonate with the men after he leaves.
EH: So when you come out what kind of character are you going to come out with and I hope it's the character to admit your faults. To own your crap to get rid of that tough fist. To surround yourself with better people and to make a difference because that's what you're here for. God bless.
Meg: After Adam and Erik’s talk I ask some of the men what they think of the F5 project. One man, who I’ll call Mike sums up the general reaction.
Mike: This is a great, great program I’m going to come next week that’s how good it was my first time. It was awesome that someone takes the time to come over and at least talk to us about that stuff and is willing to help out.
Meg: But its clear that Mike along with many of the men face huge challenges..
Mike: well right now I’m currently homeless. So I hate to be that needy person but I do need help and I’m glad there are people like this that are willing to help.
Meg: As far as what’s on the horizon for the F5 project, Adam says he’d like to see it in every jail and prison in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
Journeys Through Justice is funded in part by a grant from the North Dakota Humanites Council. For Prairie Public I’m Meg Luther Lindholm.