Today, I spoke with six men aged 19-26 from Dorchester and Roxbury. All of them have felony convictions. All of them are unemployed. And all of them desperately want to get jobs and get their lives back together. But they can't.
Each of them has dropped off between ten and twenty job applications in recent months, and no one will hire them. In the rare instances when they get a call back, they hear things like, "Oh, but you would be bored here." Or, "Sorry, but we just stopped hiring for that position." While this is understandable in some cases, the problem is that history tells us that if we don't find something for these young men to do, and help them get away from the streets fast, they are going to be rearrested and returned to prison.
So today, as we discussed the impossible reality -- desperately in need of legal employment, deep in debt to the system, and virtually unemployable with felony convictions -- confronting them, a strange thing happened. One of them suggested that we continue our group after it is supposed to end so that we can continue to discuss what is happening and how to change it. Another suggested that we team up with men from different neighborhoods that have ongoing feuds, and tackle this together as one. Another added that he would definitely do work on these important issues if he could find a job doing it. The rest agreed. I wanted to respond with excitement, and tell them that with their entrepreneurial skills and street smarts, they were born to be community organizers, and that I know a great program that will hire them. But I couldn't.
When I got home, frustrated with how little I had to offer them, I read in the paper that in the last five years the state has spent $500 million on the legal fees of these young men and others like them.
And I began thinking that this is odd. How, when young men are desperately trying to do the right thing and find jobs, and are frustrated beyond belief that society has no place for them, and even more frustrated because they have no money to buy food, provide for their families, or take the bus around town, we don't have any resources to help them. We don't have the money to offer them legitimate ways to work or make a living, or offer local corporations and businesses tax breaks in exchange for procuring jobs that will help them make a living, or job training or trade programs they can complete for credit while they are on probation.
But once they have given up on us and gone back to the only place where they can make a living, the streets, we then somehow have hundreds of millions of dollars available for their legal fees and billions more for their prosecutions and imprisonments.
And I can't even begin to imagine how awful it must make a man feel, knowing that there is an infinite supply of money that can be used to lock him up, and not really anything available to help him when he wants to do the right thing.