Providing former gang members with jobs is key to breaking the cycle of community violence, leaders of a Denver-based program report.
“Now we’ve got Bloods and Crips working together side by side,” said Pernell Hines, director of intervention and outreach for Impact Empowerment Group(IEG). “Guys who were enemies are now working right next to each other on a job site.”
“Since the group began matching people with employers last summer, some 85 individuals have been hired at a 55 percent retention rate,” reported Libby Rainey for the Denver Post. Around 40 are currently employed, said IEG’S executive director, Haroun Cowans.
Walter Roberts, formerly incarcerated for drug sales, struggled to find employment because of his criminal history and received his first job at a warehouse, pallet and transportation company hours after arriving at a community employment program organized by IEG, the Denver Post reported Aug. 14.
“Now I’ve got a chance to start a new life,” said Roberts.
Roberts is one of many ex-cons and former gang members receiving a second chance through employment from a community employment program operated by Denver’s Impact Empowerment Group that empowers youth with leadership skills.
Cowans and his staff work to remove any obstacles that would prevent former gang members with criminal records from receiving employment. They do this before referring them to potential employers.
“Our goal is not just to get them a job,” Cowans said. “Our job is to stay with them, advocate for them.”
Other companies, like Fleetwash, a truck washing company, are coordinating with Impact Empowerment Group to hire ex-convicts as well.
“People said they couldn’t be effective in our community, and I see them out working hard with a great job and future,” said Jerome Hairston, a program manager for Family Environmental. “It’s showing folks that one or two mistakes, they can overcome them.”
Since January of this year, the company has hired three people with a beginning pay rate of $16 an hour.
Several organizations and groups are working together to make this program successful, including the Department of Safety Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver, the city’s Office of Economic Development, the mayor’s office, the police department, and the mental health center.
Former gang member Hines and members of other gangs came together in 2015 to curb violence between the city’s Park Hill and Eastside gangs by providing opportunities to young people said the article.
Mike Calo, a district commander for the Denver Police Department and major supporter of the program, has spent most of his career working on gang issues, and now works in conjunction with former gang members to stop violence and reduce incarceration.
Calo has seen a de-escalation of gang activity in his district in the past year.
“These are young men I used to chase around and vice versa,” Calo said. “Now it’s their kids and grandkids, and we’re trying to break the cycle.”