Orange Doesn’t Have to Be the New Black

UpRise graduates celebrate their achievements at a recent graduation. Photo provided by UpRise.

By A. Raye Clayborn
Tribune Intern 

NASHVILLE, TN — While North Nashville may have one of the country’s highest rates of incarcerated individuals there are platforms in place to help break the cycle of poverty and recidivism that has strong links to low-income households.

A 2018 study by the Brookings Institution on Work and Opportunity Before and After Incarceration placed area code 37208 as having one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, taking into consideration recidivism in the community as well. Many factors are involved but the issue of employment is significant, with stable and livable-wage employment a  defining factor that keeps people out of jail and rehabilitates them back into society. Livable-wage employment for former offenders is vital–according to the Brookings institution, the first full year after release about half of offenders make less than $500 and 32% make between $500-$15,000. However it costs an average of $80,000 yearly to live comfortably in Nashville, said Metro Trustee Parker Toler.

Fortunately there are programs that are not only ex-convict friendly but also specialize in the rehabilitation efforts of those individuals seeking to become integrated back into society.

No Bars On Businesses (NBOB) is a community-led initiative that focuses on building a base of businesses that don’t discriminate against formerly incarcerated individuals. So far the organization has partnered with nine businesses: The Lost Paddy Irish Pub and Restaurant, Helen’s Hot Chicken (Hillsboro Village), Bongo East, Headquarters, Nicky’s Coal Fired, Frutta Bowls, Barista Parlor (East Nashville), Rudie’s Seafood and Sausage and Mitchell Delicatessen, NBOB said.

Project Return is another organization that specializes in the employment of formerly incarcerated individuals as well as their rehabilitation and incorporation back into society. Project Return starts from the inside by working with prisoners before release through their prison in-reach program. Once out of prison, Project Return offers a three-day curriculum every week that emphasizes “soft skills” for ex-felons reentering the workforce such as conflict resolution, leadership and communication skills, teamwork and adaptability. 

Project Return partners with employers through their business development team to make job connections for program participants, making sure that the men and women in their program are prepared for work by offering individualized job search coaching and strategizing. They assist with housing and utilities, medical and dental services, vision screening and correction, substance abuse services, counseling, child care, child support services, voting rights analysis, and other needs. For Project Return’s enrollees the recidivism rate is lower than 18% while the state’s average recidivism rate is more than 50 percent, the organization’s website states.

For those who don’t need the full help of programs like Project Return or who are looking for higher-paying jobs and careers, programs like UpRise can offer the assistance needed. UpRise Nashville is a career development program that provides training in highly sought-after skills to help unemployed and underemployed Nashvillians ages 19-50 in under a year, helping participants achieve upward mobility & financial self-sufficiency. Since the program’s creation two years ago UpRise graduates have gone on to work for local companies such as Vanderbilt University, Google, PhyMed, Asurion, Stansell Electric and TLD Logistics Services Inc. 

UpRise may not explicitly serve the rehabilitation of ex-convicts but they can help most formerly incarcerated individuals (except sex offenders). UpRise does screen enrollees for use of hard drugs but testing positive for marijuana doesn’t result in exclusion from its services. Rather than dropping from the program completely UpRise simply asks that individuals have no traces of it in their system by the time training starts.

For info session times and more information on UpRise, visit www.uprisenashville.org or call (615)216-0968. More information on Project Return can be found at  https://www.projectreturninc.org. For more information on No Bars On Businesses, visit https://warnashville.org.