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Some Ex-Felons Beat Odds In Search For Jobs

Job searches are hard enough in a slowly recovering economy. For former prison inmates, rejection is common and quick. But, a two year old city of Columbus experiment aims to change the odds for ex-felons searching for work. Each year, Ohio prisons release 22,000, 2,000 of them return to Columbus. For ex-cons, like Darrell Ayres, their job prospects are bleak after they answer the question on the application form: "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?"

"Doors have been shut in my face, or I was being, like they say we checked that little box it was like we can't do this or we can't do that," says Ayres.

Ayers is one of 13 former prisoners who graduated recently from the city of Columbus' Restoration Academy. A two year old program started by Mayor Michael Coleman. He describes it as a 6 month job readiness boot camp for ex-offenders often shut out of the labor force. "I can't tell you how many times I'm walking down the street and somebody comes up to me and says 'brother I need a job," says Coleman. The program gets $250,000 from the city. A handful of social service agencies chip in some money. Coleman says the program helps break what he calls a a "cycle of destruction." "There's a rate of folks going back to prison because they can't find a way to a new life when they get out," says Coleman. Ohio prison officials say nearly a third of released inmates end up back behind bars. Often, they can't find a way to a new life. But, for Robert Fusner and Dale White prison cells are in their rearview mirrors. They graduated from Restoration Academy and both now have full time city jobs with benefits. White works with the parks department.

"I spent time behind bars and this changed my life, gratefully, most definitely, truthfully, it changed. "I was at rock bottom and the job just really helped me out, kept me on my feet. I can afford to live, pay bills, and do what I do and that's how they helped me," says White.

Fusner collects trash. "And, I'm proud to say I'm a garbage man. I really am because it's an important service for Columbus, Ohio. They work hard at what they do and I'm proud to work for them," Fusner says. Most of the graduates of the first two classes at Restoration Academy have government jobs. Mayor Coleman says he'll now begin to lobby more private sector employers to consider hiring ex-felons who complete the city program.