BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Local employers and nonprofits came out in force Friday, pledging support for Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim's plan to make employment more of a reality for ex-offenders and to give those with felony convictions a second chance.
“It’s no secret — I’m one of those people,” said Ganim, who served seven years in federal prison on corruption charges after his first terms as mayor.
Ganim said his personal experience helped inform his decision to ask the City Council to approve a $50,000 budget transfer as a challenge grant to seek more funding from the private sector and state and federal government, said Av Harris, the city’s director of communications.
“The goal is to fund an initiative that would connect employers with qualified and prepared candidates with felony convictions in their backgrounds and support their hiring,” Harris said.
Under the program, employers could “try out” a promising applicant with a record, with the program funding the first three months pay, Harris said. If the candidate proved promising, the employer would approve the hiring and the employee would be placed on the payroll.
The idea is in its infancy and will need City Council approval, but several business leaders at Friday’s launch signed a pledge to do what they can to give ex-offenders a fair review.
Doug Wade, CEO of Wade’s Dairy, said he has already hired ex-offenders by working with a local re-entry program.
“I got a great employee out of that whole process,” he said. “My experience has been phenomenal. It’s a home run.”
Noting that a lot of family support helped him come home from prison, Ganim, a former attorney, said he believes that with punishment should also come redemption.
“We need to remove the modern-day scarlet letter,” said state Sen. Tony Hwang, who support the effort along with state Sens. Marilyn Moore and Ed Gomes.
Gomes spent a year in prison himself, having broken into a restaurant when he was 17. The senator said he had “had a hassle” with his family and was homeless and hungry.
“Not a dime was in (the restaurant),” he said. “I made some tuna sandwiches because I was hungry.”
When he got out of prison at 18, he tried to join the Marines and the Army, but he was rejected because of the conviction.
Later, when he had a 6-month-old baby at home, he was drafted.
Gomes said his story shows why lawmakers, nonprofits and businesses must work together to give felons a chance.
“The system just screws with you all the time,” he said.
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