BY: Rachel Cash
To declare that every convicted person must serve a lifetime sentence is fundamentally flawed. However, this appears to be the hidden agenda of criminal law in the United States, specifically in North Carolina. Over 1.6 million people in North Carolina have criminal records, of that, African Americans represent 45%. The ugly truth is that African Americans make up 21% of North Carolina’s population despite the staggering number under the supervision of the Department of Correction.
The legal professional’s duty is to uphold the law and strive for justice but they cannot be so far removed that they are blind to the collateral consequences. Crime records imprison our community for a lifetime, namely in terms of employment discrimination. We live in a time where securing employment is already difficult. The majority of initial hiring processes require some sort of background check. In a study, researchers found that white applicants received callback interviews 34% of the time compared to 14% for American African applicants. These statistics change to 14% and 4% respectively for callback interviews when applicants have criminal records. Reentry into the general population’s job market is deciding challenging for those with criminal records, and more strikingly on those in the African American community.
On the federal level, President Obama has endorsed Ban the Box and 24 States nationwide have adopted the policies, reaching both public and private employers. The City of Durham is one of the more than 100 cities and counties that have also adopted the policy. Ban the Box essentially delays the criminal background check until after an applicant is screened for qualifications, that way employers can look at the whole person and not re-litigate the past.
Master Baker, Mr. Keijuane Hester is a native of Durham and the owner of a local bakery, Favor Desserts. After serving four years in prison he struggled with finding consistent employment. Mr. Hester now owns and operates a successful business. Additionally, Mr. Hester mentors and employs individuals with criminal records. I interviewed Mr. Hester to understand how he came to own and operate his own business after his imprisonment, and the hardship individuals with criminal backgrounds have finding employment.
Rachel Cash: Was your decision to hire individuals with criminal background deliberate, and why did you decide to do it?
Mr. Keijuane Hester: I just wanted to give people with disadvantage an opportunity. I know how hard it was coming out of the system to get a fair shake at employment. I felt that after being incarcerated, coming home and having a job lined up with a felony record would be hard. I felt it was only right to hire ex-offenders to make it easier for others facing the same challenge.
Rachel: When you came home did you have to look for a job?
Mr. Hester: I already had something lined up. I had a relationship with someone who I graduated with, who was project manger in Human Resources and they helped me get the job.
Rachel: What is the hiring process, and how do you select applicants with a record?
Mr. Hester: I interview them through a program, called Job Links. It provides links for ex-felons to enter back into the community. I know a lady, who works for the company and who is over the department. Based on her recommendation, I interview people who are coming out of prison and see if they would be a good fit personally. We can pretty much teach them what to do.
Rachel: What is the retention rate of the ex-felons you hire? In your experience, do you think it is the first job that is the hardest for those re-entering?
Mr. Hester: If they work up to satisfaction, we keep them! You have to sort through a couple, some will start off working well then phase out. But if they meet the criteria of working here we keep them. They normally stay here. I make the environment rewarding enough that they can see this as a long term situation.
Rachel: How did you start your small business?
Mr. Hester: I learned the trade of baking while I was incarcerated. I started baking for the potluck at my job at the time, and I started getting request from my co-workers that they wanted to buy cakes from me. Then my cousin said “you know you need to try this as a side hustle.” But it wasn’t until I got laid-off that I said “You know what? Let me get out there and try to make something of this.” So I went out to every barbershop, beauty salon and nail shop and tried to make a name for myself. Created a buzz.
Rachel: Can you tell me about mentoring, do you mentor them and what sort of advise do you give them?
Mr. Hester: When I know guys coming out of prison there is a form of mentoring I do. When they come out and they want to sit down and come talk to me about what they should. I just give them the ropes from the way I did it. So they feel like they can use the same model and do it themselves. One guy just started his own business, Fruit Explosion. He just came home not even two-weeks and he is out and about doing it the same way. Eventually he wants to have a store front as well.
Rachel: Do you have any negative experiences in your hiring?
Mr. Hester: I never take experiences as a negative experience; I take the negative things and use it as fuel. You have some people that have that negative stigma placed on an ex-felon, but I don’t.
Rachel: What would your recommendation be for other business owners about hiring ex-felons?
Mr. Hester: Give them a shot. Some ex-felons will work harder than the civilians out here. Everybody is entitled to a second chance. Until they prove you wrong, you should give them a shot.
Rachel: What do you think has been the biggest impact on the people’s lives that you have hired?
Mr. Hester: Overall, adapted to being a positive citizen in society. I am a firm believer if you see success everyday you will conform to that. Come to work everyday in a positive environment they adapt to that. If you see success everyday you will conform to that and want to emulate that. The proof is in the pudding. They are successful, taking care of their kids, taking care of their responsibilities, not committing crimes, and that’s rebuilding a community. One person not committing crimes, that is when they become an asset to the community.
- Favor Desserts Address: 5607 HWY 55, Suite 105, Durham, NC 27713
- Phone: (919) 908-9264
- Website: www.favordesserts.com