Hamilton County's re-entry program hosts job fair for inmates

Terrence Jackson, right, speaks with Paige Snell, the program director/clinician for The Transition House of Tennessee, during a job fair at the Silverdale Detention Center on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.
photo Terrence Jackson, left, talks with Ronald VanHoozier, the human resources director/corporate trainer for Chattanooga Goodwill Industries, Inc., during a job fair at the Silverdale Detention Center on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A group of about 11 men gathered in the education room of Silverdale Detention Center for a small job fair Wednesday morning, ready to present their resumes to potential employers.

The men are all current inmates nearing their release dates, said Wendy Harris, supervisor for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office re-entry program. No women were in attendance because most did not have release dates set, she said.

This is the second time a job fair has been held at Silverdale, but it's the first time the re-entry program has hosted it. Harris plans to hold the job fair quarterly so more inmates, including the women, can participate.

A handful of companies were represented, including Goodwill Industries, Manpower Chattanooga and K&M Homes.

For weeks, Harris has been working with both men and women to make sure they understand the importance of how they present themselves and "knowing that one of the first impressions people have is based upon what they see on paper."

One of the things she focused on was helping them identify which skills they could put on a resume.

"Many of them were concerned about gaps in employment, but I wanted them to write down job-specific skills that they had and then transferable skills," she said.

How to navigate difficult interview questions, such as explaining employment gaps, was another area in which Harris coached the men.

"We just talked about being as honest as they possibly can," she said. "You have to be honest, you know, about the past and what has happened, but not to linger on it. Just highlight the qualities that they do have."

Buddy Duke, 31, was one of the men in attendance. He's set to be released on Nov. 26 and said he's ready for a new lease on life.

"I'm ready to get out and work toward a career and get started on a second chance in life," he said.

Duke, a Chattanooga native, plans to first get a job to support himself and enroll at Chattanooga State Community College to start working toward a career in welding.

"I love welding," he said. "I started in high school and I left off. I ended up getting married at an early age, took off and went to Florida and got into [masonry]."

Duke eventually moved back to Tennessee and was thinking about getting his welding certification when he hit a personal rough patch and "went into a little downhill spiral."

He ended up with charges that landed him in Silverdale for the past five months.

"I'm just really thankful that I'm here," he said. "Because if it hadn't have been for that, there ain't no tellin' where I would have ended up. This has definitely been a - you know, God saved my life on this one. This was a wake-up call for me."

Sheriff Jim Hammond was also in attendance and was happy to see the program's progress.

"This is the type of thing I want to see us go even further into," he said.

Hammond has been looking at programs in other counties across the nation that have shown success in readying inmates for life after incarceration.

The programs "kind of take them where they are and begin to kind of get them stabilized and get them ready to go back out into the world," he said. "I think this is a perfect example of where the community is beginning to realize they need to take a more active interest in helping these inmates. They're trying to get themselves grounded, trying to get their families back together, [they're trying to] get out there and develop the self-support they need."

Hammond hopes to implement similar programs here in Hamilton County.

"Rather than just housing inmates doing their time," he said, "we're trying to kind of interject into them the values that they can be useful citizens again."

"We're not here to do everything for them, we're trying to give them some tools to use to reorient themselves back in society and become productive members."

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.