The American Job Center on Brainerd Road was a flurry of activity Thursday morning as career development professionals worked with several dozen convicted felons determined to hit the reset button.
Attendees signed up for the New Life Job Fair to better their interview skills and, among other things, try to land jobs at local companies during the two-day event. When they arrived on Thursday, they were broken into groups to begin training for a job fair scheduled for today.
The groups were then shepherded into classrooms, where instructors walked them through how to write resumes and comport themselves during job interviews. For men like Darrius Higgins Sr., the event offers a radical opportunity.
"I've been a convicted felon since I was 17 years old," he said. "Nobody really gives convicted felons a chance to try to get into the work force the right way."
Higgins said he has five years of college experience, but time and time again he's been turned away from jobs or given only the most menial responsibilities because of his record.
"This kind of opportunity gives you a chance and a better hope," he said. "You know a lot of guys don't have hope, cause I didn't have none. I didn't know. I was intelligent, but somewhere down the line I lost [hope], and when you lose that, it's kinda hard to get back."
This week's job fair is the third of its kind in Chattanooga and one of its architects, Troy Rogers, the city's public safety coordinator, said the fairs are producing results. Following the last two events, 26 felons have found gainful employment, he said.
"Our numbers are saying this is working," he said.
Rogers said it's essential to plug men and women who have resorted to criminal activity back into productive work environments, because the alternative is a lose-lose situation.
"We're fighting the recruiting of gangs right now by blocking the next wave of young men coming out of the prison system," he said.
This week's event is at capacity, but its organizers hope to host another soon. For more information, call 423-643-6702.
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.