Mike Rowe, of TVs “Dirty Jobs” fame, has set up a scholarship to train prison inmates in skilled and underrepresented trades, offering them hope of integrating back into society as useful members.
Training inmates in skilled trades prior to release breaks the all-too-familiar cycle of reoffending
The mikeroweWORKS Foundation is a charitable organisation that gives scholarships to people seeking job training in the skilled trades. Headed by actor Mike Rowe, host of the TV show Dirty Jobs, which profiles occupations most people would consider unpleasant, some courses are now available to prisoners. Training inmates in trades that are in demand by the public, yet underrepresented in the workforce, offers them hope of integrating back into society with something of value to offer, breaking the cycle of reoffending so common among those with no skills, training or opportunities.
What’s the point of “paying your debt to society,” if society never forgives the loan?
To best understand the motivation behind Mike Rowe’s decision to offer trades scholarships to prison inmates, thereby enhancing their chances of integrating smoothly back into society rather than remaining on the merry-go-round of reoffending, is best summed up in his response to a question someone posed on his Facebook page last month.
“I just heard that your foundation awarded a work ethic scholarship to an inmate, currently serving time for armed robbery. I have to ask – were there no qualified applicants who haven’t broken the law? I love your foundation, but I find your support of convicts surprising and troubling – especially at the expense of law-abiding people looking to better their own lives.” — Dan Jax
To which Mike replied:
It’s a fair question, and the answer is yes – this year, we received hundreds of scholarship applications from people who never spent a single night in prison. However, “not going to jail” – while laudable – does not automatically qualify you for a mikeroweWORKS scholarship. Likewise, “going to jail” – while disgraceful – will not automatically disqualify you from consideration.
Right now, we’re living in a country with millions of skilled jobs that nobody seems to want. My foundation is committed to training people who exhibit a certain work-ethic to fill these positions. And this year, out of the 245 scholarships we awarded, no one earned a higher score then an inmate named John Fitzpatrick. It’s really that simple. The real question is, should I ignore a stellar candidate with excellent references, simply because he broke the law twelve years ago?
To be clear, Dan, I’m not soft on crime, or criminals. My sympathies are with cops and victims. But our criminal justice system is a mess. Every week, thousands of ex-cons are released back into polite society, and the recidivism rates are terrible. So, unless we start sending all the offenders to live out their lives on Convict Island, we’re going to continue to live alongside them. Which begs a question you haven’t asked – do we or don’t we want these people to become self-sufficient?
It’s an honest question, and if the answer is no, so be it. But then, what’s the point in releasing them at all? Likewise, if the answer is yes – if we truly want them to be productive citizens – then why do we demand they “check the box” whenever they apply for a job? Can you think of a better way to doom a fresh start, then to require a former inmate to reveal the details of a past incarceration on their job application? What’s the point of “paying your debt to society,” if society never forgives the loan?
This year, as in years past, The Charles Koch Foundation was a generous supporter of mikeroweWORKS. Charles believes that “checking the box” is fundamentally unfair, which is why Koch Industries does not require job seekers to do so. I find that rather…courageous. That’s why we partnered a few years ago on Project Jumpstart, a program in Baltimore that successfully trains former inmates for jobs in the construction trades. And that’s why I was happy to help John Fitzpatrick re-enter civilian life with a work-ethic scholarship.
Again – not because I’m especially forgiving, and not because I grade on a curve. I don’t. I just can’t dispute the logic of clearing the ledger once a debt had been paid. And I can’t ignore the fact that John Fitzpatrick made a very compelling case for himself. More so in fact, than the vast majority of applicants.
The next question is harder to answer – will John Fitzpatrick squander the opportunity? I don’t know. I sure hope not. Fact is, I don’t know if any of our scholarship recipients will go on to prosper and thrive as a result of my help. I have excellent reasons to be optimistic, but I can guarantee nothing. Please take a moment and read the attached. It too, proves nothing. But I think it’ll explain why I believe this guy is worthy of a second chance.
How to change career when you have no idea what you’re doing
It’s not only inmates who sometimes need a new direction. It can happen to anyone. Are you in a job that isn't really you? Ready for a career change, but have no idea what else you could do – or where to start? Here’s what you need to know.