Ex-offenders struggle to find work, overcome employers' doubts

By Michelle Singletary
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 6, 2010; 5:18 PM

About the challenge

Every year columnist Michelle Singletary chooses several people or families and helps them with their finances. This year she has worked with women recently released from prison. She met them through a volunteer outreach effort of a financial mentoring program she directs at First Baptist Church of Glenarden.

Kelly D. Brown left prison with one overriding mission - to never again let her hot temper lead to another stint behind bars.

"I was so reckless when I was young," said Brown, 32.

The last time she let her anger explode, she shot at some girls who were trying to enter her home after a fight. She was convicted of second-degree attempted murder and served six years of an eight-year sentence. When she entered the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in 2004, her son was 3.

"When I got out he was a whole little man with his own way of thinking," Brown said. "I had pictures of him from before I got locked up, and then after. His joy was gone, and I did it. I took the joy from his life."

While incarcerated, Brown got help for her anger issues and began to style other inmates' hair. A week after being released from prison, she started taking cosmetology classes and received her license in less than a year.

She got a job as a stylist at a Hair Cuttery in Baltimore. Brown was upfront about her criminal past - hoping, praying, someone would give her a chance. The manager of the salon decided to give Brown an opportunity to prove herself.

Brown started March 26. But then . . .

. . . But then I decided to profile Brown as part of the latest installment of a series I began earlier this year in which I looked at the difficulties ex-offenders have managing their personal finances. However, I found that we couldn't concentrate on that problem because of the many other factors that prevent ex-offenders from succeeding - some personal, some the result of public and private policies.

Brown's story was supposed to be positive. She asked someone up the chain of command at Hair Cuttery, a division of Vienna, Va.-based Ratner Companies, if it would be okay for her to be photographed working on her customers.

The corporate office had her fired.

The salon leader said Brown was "honest about everything" concerning her criminal history. The regional field recruiter for Hair Cuttery was also aware of Brown's felony conviction.

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