In Hollywood, the story about what happens after someone goes to prison has remained largely untold, until now. “Orange Is the New Black,” a Netflix original series, is quickly becoming a favorite among the 30 million Netflix subscribers. The show, which has already been picked up for a second season, focuses on the lives of women in prison. It has already raised issues that are shedding light on what happens to the formerly-incarcerated as they struggle to regain their lives and livelihoods.
Andrew King, who served a year and a half in jail, described the experience of being inside and getting out.
“It’s like a nightmare you can’t wake up from,” he said. “When I got released I had absolutely nothing, except for the clothes that no longer fit on me, and I lived under a bridge. The judge, the prosecutors, everybody knew when I was getting released what was happening to me.”
King is one of 140 people working for RecycleForce, an Indianapolis-based recycling company which hires people after they are released from prison. Having a criminal record makes it difficult to find employment but, according to the Urban Institute, people are 79 percent less likely to re-offend if they are employed.
Gregg Keesling started RecycleForce 10 years ago to help people such as King find work and stay out of the prison system. The nonprofit is participating in a government study to measure the difference employment and support can make for people after they serve their sentences. Keesling said he sees it as fitting that his organization has found success in recycling things people don’t want, with the work of a population much of society has given up on.
“The things we throw away are the things we’ve been able to bring together to make for a better world,” he said. “Our whole program is designed to give those who are trying to find a job, a job.”
For Andrew King, RecycleForce gives him the motivation to keep going and seek out an honest life.
“When people are being released from prison, there’s usually a moment there where they have very high hopes and dreams and those dreams kind of get crushed, and having the opportunity to come here, and somebody was like ‘Hey, I want you to work.’ It was like ‘Well, well good, I want to work too.”
RecycleForce is now the second-largest recycling company in Indianapolis and has plans to expand to Columbus, Ohio; Lexington, Kentucky; and other cities. Gregg Keesling is a member of Social Venture Network, which strives to support and inspire businesses to build a just and sustainable economy. SVN’s Fall Conference will take place October 17-20 in Baltimore.
More information on RecycleForce can be found at RecycleForce.org.