Going straight is not easy.
For men and women recently released from prison a major stumbling block may be convincing a prospective employer that they really have made up their minds to go straight.
In a basement office at the First Trinity Church at 4th and E streets NW, Sister Judith Schloegel helps ex-prision inmates make the difficult transition from life behind bars to jobs behind desks.
Schloegel, a former counselor at the women's prison in Alderson, West va., heads a job location program called Liberation of Ex-Offenders Through Employment Opportunities. A Catholic nun, she was hired to start the program in October 1977 by the American Lutheran Church.
Since February 1978 the program has placed 130 exoffenders in what Scloegel calls "quality jobs" that offer some room for advancement in fields ranging from secretarial to maintenance.
Schoegel explained that the offenders are placed according to their experience. Since exconvicts usually have limited education and work backgrounds, she said, most only are qualified for entry-level-positions.
Yet Schloegel said that only six of the 130 clients her program has placed with 51 employers have been convicted of crimes and sent back to prision.
"The only thing that could change was me. The streets will always remain the same," said Janice Grady, an exoffender who is now assistant director of Last Renaissance Drug Program.
"The Ex-Offenders program gave me the confidence to go into a job and prove that I could be productive and honest. Sister Judith gave me real encouragement when there was a need for me to change and to get involved," said Grady, who got her first position as a helper at a halfway house on 16th Street NW.
Another Ex-Offenders client, who asked not to be identified by name, said that the program found him a job in two months as a salesman at Woodward and Lothrop's in two months after he had spent five years unsuccessfully knocking on doors looking for work.
"For five years I was turned down because of one mistake I made earlier in my life," he said.
Privately financed for its first two years in operation by the American Lutheran Church and various local foundations, the Ex-Offenders program has been operating since May with a temporary federal grant from a private sector initiative bill under C.E.T.A. administrated by the D.C. Private Industry Council.
That grant will run out in two months, and Schloegel is currently seeking an additional $200,00 from the federal government via the District's Private Industry Council.
"We have to show everyone that these people can work and that there are people who will hire them," she said.
This month the program has placed ex-offenders with five area companies.
"We've had success with people who have down the hard road," said John Yates, personnel officer with Automated Data Inc., a company that this past year has hired three persons through the ex-offender program.
"They seem to approach their job with serious intent -- as opposed to, say a new person fresh out of school. We've not been disappointed yet and hope the trend will continue. Many of them have served as examples for others in the office."
"Most of these people are just starving for a pat on the back," said William Baker, truck dispatcher at Avignone Freres Catering service. "At this job you just do not have the time to tell them they're doing a good job. You feel like like saying 'Man you're really doing good,' but often times the situation doesn't prevail."