By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Bernice McPhatter and Shamell Peterkin of the Hoke County Reentry Council know the Council’s work can change lives, and last week they got to see evidence of it in action.
A former convicted felon and Reentry Council client stopped by an event to update them on how far he’s come.
“When he came to the program we sent him to work at a transportation company, where he got his CDL (commercial driver’s license). He now owns his own company,” McPhatter said.
That’s only one success story out of many the Hoke County Reentry Council staff members have heard. McPhatter can speak of others, too: people who were trying to start over, and got help from the Council to get jobs at local companies like Butterball.
“They’re still employed there and are doing great. They’ve been promoted on their jobs,” McPhatter said. “We sent a couple to Elevate Textiles and they’re really working out well there.”
For the past three years, the Hoke County Reentry Council has worked to support people coming out of prison as they reenter society. Prior to that, Hoke was grouped into a multi-county agency for its reentry resources. But then the structure changed, and Maggie’s Outreach Community Development Center made an agreement with the state to provide reentry services just for Hoke County.
The Hoke County Reentry Council celebrated April as “Second Chance Month” as proclaimed by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, with multiple events geared toward helping people who have been incarcerated. A job fair held last week attracted about 20 people to visit with representatives from companies such as Butterball, Sanderson Farms, Mega Force Employment Services and Two Hawk Employment Services.
Everyone who showed up walked away with a job interview date, Peterkin said. With many corporations looking for workers right now, it’s a good opportunity for job seekers, he said.
“They really have to get out and take that initiative,” Peterkin said. “…They need the employees, it’s just getting people to come out and find those jobs, to want to get out of the home and back into the workforce.”
When a convicted felon leaves prison, it can take years to build a new life. Some of the problems that they run into tend to be related to just restoring their lifestyle, Peterkin said. When people go into prison to serve their sentence, they leave their paperwork such as Social Security cards and birth certificates behind.
“Those things get lost over time. Family may move, family may not have collected that paperwork, it’s almost as if we’re trying to bring them back to life, trying to start that process,” Peterkin said.
The events held during “Second Chance Month” gave the Council a chance to connect with more formerly incarcerated people who could use a helping hand in a variety of different ways.
“Everything was just phenomenal,” McPhatter said of the Council’s events.
One of the events held in April focused on record expungement. Expungement means that after a certain time period – 10 years now, in North Carolina – former offenders can apply to have their record wiped clean of their time in prison.
“It basically involves getting your record cleared. With the changes that occurred in 2021, if you had a felony conviction, it used to be 15 years. It was switched to 10. So they were able to get their record cleared,” McPhatter explained. “That means it’s no longer on your account at all.”
Many people don’t even know it exists as an option, which is one barrier to accessing it. The time and money involved are other barriers, the Council representatives explained. But it can be life-changing for people who have left prison and re-entered society, which is why the Reentry Council brought in attorneys to offer advice and walk people through the process.
“It’s been one of the key projects of the Reentry (Council) for the last two years,” Peterkin said.
The Reentry Council held the expungement clinic earlier this month, but can help connect former convicted persons with resources even if they didn’t attend the clinic.
“With the commissioners backing us and reaching out to N.C. Legal Aid and them supporting us, it was very successful,” Peterkin said. “Some of the men and women who showed up, they weren’t very educated on the process. I think by them giving a class and explaining changes to the laws, it kind of helped them understand where they were.”
Eight people who attended the event were able to meet with lawyers and set up appointments to start their expungement process, the organizers said.
Then, the job fair last week saw success in helping more former offenders seek employment.
The Hoke County Reentry Council can provide services throughout the year. Any individual returning to Hoke County following incarceration in a federal or state prison or local jail is welcome to seek resources through the Council.
The Council provides services to individuals in prison scheduled to be released in the next six months, individuals being released from detention facilities and individuals currently on probation, parole, and/or post-release supervision. They receive referrals from the local judicial system, from Social Services, from friends and family and also accept walk-ins.
Hoke County is unique in that its Reentry Council will keep people in its program for up to a year. Most counties’ Reentry Councils only track their clients for 90 days, Peterkin said.
The events were held at the Breaking Every Chain resource center, located at 109 North Main Street, Suite B in downtown Raeford. The resource center is a “second chance training center” that works year-round to offer skills training to people of all ages to help them successfully find employment.
The center offers everything from a 15-hour essential skills training program, to job assistance, job transitioning and resume writing support, computer training classes for all ages, an adult literacy curriculum that includes money essentials training from PNC Bank, and pre-employment and on-the-job training. The Breaking Every Chain resource center also offers GED/TASC/Hiset online learning, and is a certified ACT Work Keys testing site. The programs are free for qualified enrollees, and for others, low-cost payment plans or grant funds may be available.
For more information on reentry services or to inquire about the Hoke County Reentry Council programs, contact [email protected] or call (910) 565-2299.