Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Who Cares If They're Felons? Not Empowercom

I wish there were more people out there who understood the value of a person trying to start over.
Now the city and state should realize the value of the company and help make this work by using Empowercom to wire all their new buildings. Like maybe the million dollar jail that's going up downtown.

Omani Zulu spent 31 of his 55 years in prison.

The odds are against him living free. Two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years, U.S. Department of Justice studies show.

"A lot of people asked me, 'You did so much time. How you gonna get out and fly straight? ... Well, you just do it. You've got to have that mind-set."

You've also got to have a job. But where do you get a job when your chief credential is former burglar and your rap sheet says three-time loser?

"I went around to a lot of places for a job, and they wasn't felony-friendly," said Zulu, whose previous job history included breaking into a pawnshop.

One place was felony-friendly, though: Empowercom, a small Denver-based company that manufactures cable assemblies for the telecommunications industry and runs wires through buildings for telephones, computers and audio, video, security and control systems.

Most of the company's 22 employees came from prisons. They work on projects for Qwest and Denver-based Turner Construction, and they recently wired the new Colorado Rapids stadium in Commerce City.

If Empowercom had the work, it could employ a thousand more, taking them all off social services and turning them into bona fide taxpayers, said Terri Jackson, who co-founded the company with her brother in 1997.

Empowercom provides employment for other disadvantaged people in the job market - but many of these people aren't as reliable as felons.

"The nice thing about felons is that they are mandated to come to work," said Jackson. "(Other) people get their checks on Friday, and half of them won't be here on Monday. They won't need money until Tuesday or Wednesday."

Felons, by contrast, have parole officers checking to be sure they show up for work. The parole system is almost like an outsourced HR department for Empowercom.

Zulu has mellowed during his many years in prison. "They done got too much of my time," he said. So now he comes to work each day and cheerfully cuts cables to spec.

He is plainspoken man with a pony tail that falls to his waist and chiseled features from years of pumping iron in the pen. "They just give me the paperwork and I cut it," he said.

Another thing about Zulu: He's fully documented, as are all felons, so there's no need to worry about immigration officials clearing Empowercom employees from a construction site. "They wouldn't have been in prison if they were not legal," said Jackson. "This is the new workforce. They've got paper."

Jackson, a former supply chain manager for Pepsi, and her brother, Steve Jackson, a former aerospace engineer, started Empowercom to bring technology jobs to the economically disadvantaged.

"We went at it backwards," Jackson concedes. "We should have started out with a business proposition rather than a people proposition."

The Denver Post

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