Have you ever been convicted of a felony? Yes/No.
The answer to this short question on a job application can put major distance between those seeking work and their potential employers. Finding a job after being incarcerated, for most, is a very difficult road that can often result in jobs that barely make ends meet. Studies have found that people are most worried about finding a job when they are released from prison, more than worrying about housing. Job security is also linked to reducing recidivism, and in Tennessee, 40 percent of those who have been incarcerated will return to imprisonment.
Five years ago, Nashville-based couple Will and Tiffany Acuff began preparing ex-offenders to enter the job market with a free job readiness course at McFerrin Community Center in East Nashville. They launched a nonprofit, Corner to Corner.
“You’ve got so many places that won’t hire you but will only give you the worst shifts that no one else will take,” Will explained.
Tiffany added, “One of the challenges that I have found in Nashville is that people who come out of prison and want a change might be able to find an entry level job – a fast food job. For a lot of people, that is not a livable wage.”
The course focuses on helping ex-offenders learn how to conduct themselves in an interview and how to dress. It’s also a chance for men and women to learn how to share their stories of redemption and transformation with potential employers.
“A lot of what the basic class is, is helping people to see their own value first,” said Tiffany, who previously worked in the prison system. “When you go into an interview, you’re basically selling yourself. Someone has to be comfortable sharing their own talents and skills they bring to a position.
“One of our first classes at the rec center, we had someone who was on parole but had been recently charged with a misdemeanor – drugs. He told me he was a dealer. I said, ‘Were you any good? Did you have a crew, do you have management skills?’ It’s helping people take a moment to see (their God-given talents).”
More than 100 people have come through the Acuffs' job readiness courses.
The Acuff family. Credit: Corner to Corner.
In 2016, Corner to Corner launched the Business Entrepreneurship Academy in an effort to support local men and women looking to get a business up and running. The 10-week program shares skills necessary to develop and start small businesses, working as a bridge to established local businesses.
“We’ve had two graduating classes so far (and) over half of the first class are post revenue,” Will said. The program expanded to North Nashville with the help of the McGruder Family Resource Center.
Corner to Corner now also offers reading tutoring services for kids, noting that education and proficient literacy are linked to keeping students out of prison. The nonprofit is looking to expand its offerings to more rec centers throughout the city.
In all their efforts, the Acuffs are focused on investing in their community and forging relationships. The couple leads Bible studies, which are optional to program participants.
Credit: Corner to Corner
“I really love the idea of the way that God redeems us, the redemption story,” Tiffany said. “The Bible talks a lot about Paul being imprisoned. I think that it was such a unique opportunity to do work with people who have experienced that in a real way who wanted more. It just makes me feel very alive to be given that opportunity and witness people changing and experiencing the gospel.
“We don’t want to walk away and have people become middle class people and employed. It’s about people changing their lives with the gospel.”
Learn more about Corner to Corner at www.cornertocorner.org.