Second Chances Scarce For Ex-Cons

Earlier this week, President Obama called the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles to thank him for giving NFL star Michael Vick a second chance. Vick was recruited by the Eagles after serving 19 months in prison for running a dog fighting ring. But many ex-offenders are less lucky in finding work and reentering communities. Host Michel speaks with former convict and reentry advocate Mansfield Frazier about challenges facing ex-offenders.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now we turn to the question of those who have been convicted of crimes in this country, have served their sentences and are trying to move on. This is in the news in part because of a phone call President Obama made recently to the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jeff Lurie, praising him for giving quarterback Michael Vick a chance to play after he completed a 19-month sentence for dog fighting.

A White House statement Tuesday said the conversation was consistent with Mr. Obama's view that quote, "Individuals who have paid for their crimes should have an opportunity to contribute to society again."

To that end, we invited Mansfield Frazier to TELL US MORE. He's an ex-offender himself who now counsels other ex-offenders. He's also the co-publisher of Re-Entry Advocate magazine which aims to reduce the recidivism rate of ex-offenders.

Welcome to the program. Thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. MANSFIELD FRAZIER (Co-Publisher Re-Entry Advocate Magazine): Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: And in the spirit of full disclosure, I do have to let everyone know that my part of Mr. Vick's legal team in defending against the dog fighting allegation. So with that being said, I wanted to ask you what was your reaction to finding out that President Obama had called Jeff Lurie to praise him on this matter. Some people found that unpresidential.

Mr. FRAZIER: Well, actually, I was thrilled. I think the whole re-entry community across the United States have been kind of waiting for the President to start down this path. It's a path we all felt that he would eventually go down, but I mean, he had health care and all these other issues.

So we know that re-entry is not a very popular topic, but at some point during his presidency we expected for him to start addressing it, and I think this is the first kind of subtle hint that he's ready to start testing those waters.

MARTIN: And when you said that it's not a very popular topic, what do you mean?

Mr. FRAZIER: Well, when you have 10 percent unemployment in the country, the first thing somebody will say, well why do we want help somebody who's committed a crime back and get a job when I don't have a job. And this is population without adequate advocacy. It's real easy to beat up on state legislatures. You committed a crime, you're a criminal. You're branded with that scarlet F, and in our country, why don't you just sit out the rest of your life branded in that manner.

We have a very punitive society here in America that really don't want to give people a second chance.

MARTIN: What about that point that you just mentioned? Why don't you just address it head on since, you know, you think people feel that way - excuse me - that if you, you know, why should you be at the top of the list if other people...

Mr. FRAZIER: I didn't (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Oh, forgive me, I'm sorry.

Mr. FRAZIER: Not at the top of the list but certainly...

MARTIN: Why should you get any help if you - if you would address that question. I apologize. I was just about to cough there. Would you answer the question that you posed, to those who feel that way, what would you say?

Mr. FRAZIER: I don't know necessarily that I'm asking for help. I'm just saying just quit hurting me. Take some of the barriers.

In Ohio there's 365 collateral sanctions, which means if you go to prison, let's say you're a barber and you write a bad check to pay your rent, you go to prison. You come out, they take your barber's license. Now, you didn't get convicted of cutting bad hair, you wrote a bad check. Why do they take your barber's license? That's an extra punishment. Just remove those extra punishments, and most people can do fairly well fine.

Now, the other part of the matter is that it's a proven fact that the more education a prisoner obtains while incarcerated, the lower the recidivism rate, which is good for America.

Do you want to pay people - basically pay $25,000 a year for somebody to sit in prison, or do you want them out here working, earning money, paying taxes like the rest of us? What's happened is, the re-entry community, we're not - we don't try to sell hug-a-thug. I don't want you to like me. You don't need to like me. Do you want to keep paying tax dollars? We're spending $60 billion -with a B - in America on prisons and states are struggling to make budget.

California has built seven new prisons in the last decade. I don't think they've built one new University. And that's a sure way for a society to slide down that slippery slope when you start spending more on prisons than colleges. And that's what we've been doing in America.

MARTIN: We have only 30 seconds left, and I hope you'll come back and talk to us more about what your experiences have been, but what was the hardest thing for you when you came out of prison, as briefly as you can?

Mr. FRAZIER: Finding a job in journalism, but that only lasted for about, oh, a month and a half. I was adequately prepared. And if people get a chance to be prepared, you can navigate the waters and come back and make yourself whole.

MARTIN: Mansfield Frazier's a writer and an ex-offender advocate. He is also the co-publisher of Re-Entry Advocate magazine, and he joined us from WCPN in Cleveland.

Mr. Frazier, thank you so much for joining us. Happy new year to you.

Mr. FRAZIER: Thank you for having me.

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