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Correction to This Article
The profile of Christine Foote incorrectly said that Foote, a Maryland parolee, was planning to return to selling products for Pure Romance, an in-home direct sales company. The company for which Foote previously sold products was Slumber Parties, not Pure Romance. Foote mistakenly thought she had worked with Pure Romance because of a change in corporate ownership. Slumber Parties confirms that it employed Foote as a consultant.

The Color of Money Challenge catches up with Stephanie Harris and Christine Foote

Personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary is working with two former inmates of Maryland Correctional Institution for Women to help them find a path to financial security and prosperity.

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By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, May 23, 2010

Picking up trash is a career step up for Stephanie Harris.

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She's got a new hairdo -- slicked down -- to go with her new job and work outfit. On a rainy day in downtown Baltimore, she's wearing a red shirt and yellow rain pants and jacket to keep from getting soaked. It's a good look for her. The colors suit her better than her former prison grays.

"I don't mind cleaning the streets," Harris said when I visited her. "To me, when you go from working seven days a week earning 95 cents to a dollar a day, to making $7.25 an hour, it's an upgrade."

Let me put that in perspective for you.

Compare her hourly pay of $7.25 with the $3,000 a day she routinely earned selling drugs. But that job landed her in prison in 2007. It was the fifth time for Harris, who was sentenced to eight years for her last offense. On a cold and windy April 9, after anxiously going through a tedious release process, Harris walked out of the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women.

When Harris was paroled, she vowed she wouldn't go back to prison, even if an honest living included removing cigarette butts from cracks in the sidewalk, weeding tree pits, emptying pole-mounted trash cans and scraping stickers off light poles and street signs.

Christine Foote, who also was recently paroled from MCIW, would welcome any job.

For now, she's taking care of her nieces and nephews to earn some money. She had hoped to land a job doing data-entry work as she did with Maryland Correctional Enterprises, which provides pre-release training through a number of business units located in the state's major prisons.

Harris and Foote, as part of my annual Color of Money Challenge, have agreed to allow me to follow them through this year as they try to turn their lives around. I met them while volunteering to teach personal finance classes to soon-to-be released inmates, and they were among my best students.

We talk about budgeting, saving and making better financial decisions. But mostly I try to give them encouragement.

Foote has moved back to a small community. It's been a harder transition for her because there are fewer employment opportunities. Every day she applies for several jobs.

"Most people don't even get back to me," Foote said when I visited her in Salisbury, Md. "I hear more nos than yeses, but I have to keep pushing."


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