City of Detroit program aims to employ returning citizens coming out of jail

Posted at 6:41 AM, Mar 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 16:52:41-04

(WXYZ) — The city of Detroit is cleaning up one alley at a time while giving a second chance to the people who are coming out of jail or prison.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, "returning citizens" face unemployment at a rate of over 27% higher than the rest of the population.

Delvren Wallace is a returning citizen, a free man since January 2020. He takes advantage of work opportunities like at the COVID-19 testing site at the former State Fairgrounds through "Detroit At Work."

"Never take freedom and opportunity to work for granted," he said.

The program then got him connected to the city's alley cleanup project in August.

"Looking back on being incarcerated, that's on the back burner. We learn from it, but we don't forget about it," Wallace said. "Returning citizens, they come out here. It's a job with Detroit. It's beautiful. I love it. I hate to take a day off."

Program Manager Crystal Perkins said the alley cleanup program is modeled after the Board-up Brigade, which also employed returning citizens.

She said that program hired 100 people, and about 35-40% went on to get hired by the city full time.

The alley program has 40-55 employees, and about 35% are returning citizens, staying productive and staying out of trouble.

Sheryl Kubiak, the dean of the school of social work at Wayne State University, used to run a re-entry program in the city for women. She said going from a regimented life behind bars to a free society full of choices can be overwhelming.

"Having employment that provides you with a regular schedule, that provides you with socialization to others who are doing, kind of, the work of life is really a helpful support benefit. But the more meaningful the employment is and the higher the wages, the most likely people aren't going to go back into criminal behavior," Kubiak said.

Wallace said he's not going back to that life, and that people in his shoes can look to him as an example.

"Everybody might look at it like, 'oh, it's a dirty job,' but it's a job and I like it because it keeps me busy, it keeps me motivated," he said. "I got a big family, a lot of friends and family that are proud of what I'm doing. because I had set back in my life. It's never too late to pick up. It's never too late to pick up."