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Earning a second chance


WORLD Radio - Earning a second chance

After being released from prison, men learn life skills to help break the chains of their former life

Omar Arguelles at ForgeNow Genesis Photos/Photo by Kim Leeson

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, June 11th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

LINDSAY MAST, HOST: And I’m Lindsay Mast. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: jobs after jail. Some inmates are one-time offenders who need some help to become productive members of society. For them, trade schools are often the answer.

REICHARD: WORLD’s Todd Vician has our story.

TODD VICIAN: A few months ago, Robert Drayer graduated from trade school. But before starting the seven-week program, he wasn’t sure he could even get a job again.

DRAYER: You know they got that reentry program that supposed to get you a ID, a social security card…I got out. I didn't have no birth certificate, no ID, social security card, nothing.

That’s because in 2023 he was released from jail. Drayer grew up near Little Rock, Arkansas. He was a five-star basketball player who left college early when his mom was diagnosed with cancer. Even with several run-ins with the law, he found a job at a local warehouse before being laid off during COVID. Desperate for money, he said, “yes” when a friend offered to share his illegal drug trade.

DRAYER: Once you get involved in it, you know, you get to live in a lifestyle, you become part of that lifestyle, you know, it's just like I always knew that I wasn't, I didn't belong there.

Drayer was eventually shot in a botched drug deal and almost died in the Emergency Room. After recovering from surgery, he turned himself into a Dallas-area jail to serve time for a parole violation after convictions for selling drugs and stealing a friend’s car.

In jail, he met a pastor who leads the Dallas Leadership Foundation’s prison reentry program. One day after a Bible study, the pastor told Drayer about a scholarship the foundation offers to a trade school. It helps formerly incarcerated men earn a second chance.

MARVIN KEY: The second chance community or the justice-involved community, which is a massive universe of candidates…

That’s Marvin Key, he’s co-founder of ForgeNow, the trade school in Dallas.

KEY: This is tens of thousands of people who are one-timers. They’re kind of – they got in, made a mistake, they’re serving their time and they’re gonna get out.

Employers usually skip over applicants with a criminal record unless they see a reason to pause and take a chance.

KEY: What we do over the seven weeks because of the demands of our 7am to 4pm program, because of the uniform, because the tools, we’re in effect putting our graduates through a seven week internship or a seven week job interview.

At ForgeNow, Drayer learned how to service heating and air conditioning units. He also built a new record, one that shows diligence, commitment, and follow-through instead of just crime and punishment.

KEY: The employer who hires our people, is going to at least have the appreciation that our guys can get there on time. They can wear their uniform effectively, pass the weekly assessments, all that kind of thing.

Drayer’s road to recovery continued when he was released and moved into the Leadership Foundation’s transition house. Men who stay there commit to attending weekly Bible studies and worship services, going to school, and living there for 10 to 12 months. Program managers have found that’s enough time to finish school, get a job, build savings and break the chains of jail and a former life.

DRAYER: I had someone tell me not too long ago, you know, they had a friend, guy that did eight years and being incarcerated. And say he wasn't out a full month before he went right back to doing the same things that he was doing.

Drayer spent seven weeks taking hour-long bus rides back and forth from the transition house to the school. He learned how to properly handle refrigerants and trouble-shoot equipment. And he also learned how to acknowledge his past in job interviews in a way that helps applicants with criminal backgrounds get to the second interview. And just like 90 percent of ForgeNow graduates, he was offered a job. But the offer was from a company in Phoenix, so Drayer declined it. He didn’t have enough money to get there, let alone pay the first and last month’s rent and security deposit before getting his first paycheck.

Robert Drayer at the United Methodist church

Robert Drayer at the United Methodist church Photo by Todd Vician

DRAYER: Some days, being honest with you, I would get four or five jobs or five phone calls a day. But one is, they're the ones that I couldn’t get to. So it was like, either I couldn't get the job because of no license or the job was just too far out where I couldn't reach, you know.

But when one door closed, another opened. Drayer had volunteered nights after trade school at a United Methodist church, just a block from his transitional house. They offered him a full-time custodian job.

DRAYER: I never first off expected to get this job. To be blessed, you must first understand what a blessing is. My blessing was just being able to be here, you know, being able to be in a different environment that I was, that I’ve been in before.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Todd Vician in Dallas Texas.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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