MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So if David Ger now knows how a single day can have such a positive impact on one's life, the man we'll meet next is pretty darn sure the choices we make in a single moment can cast a major shadow for decades. Emily Friedman brings us his story.
MR. KENNETH BUTLER
Emily, you are in my room, my place of residence. As you can see, this is my living area over here.
MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN
This is Kenneth Butler, he's 57 years old and lives on 1st Street Southeast at the East of the River, Clergy and Police Community Partnership Transitional House.
My room, it's a mess, clothes hanging about.
Butler's room is not a mess actually. Everything is perfectly put away, there really isn't all that much to begin with. Most of his adult life, he's been in prison.
My first incarceration was back in '76. I was arrested for kidnapping and armed robbery.
When Butler was 20, he and some buddies went into a jewelry store downtown. They swung around a gun until the staff handed over money and plenty of jewelry. They wanted the money to buy drugs, the objective, Butler says, behind all the crimes he's ever committed. They fled the jewelry store and drove off in Butler's car, which is how the police found him, just a few hours later.
When I stepped in that courtroom and the clerk called my case, United States of America versus Kenneth Butler, it was me against the world.
Butler served three years for the robbery and the 37 years since that day, Butler said he's been incarcerated roughly 12 times. He'd get out, stay clean, try to get a job. And when he couldn't...
Then I will commit a crime because I've been a thief creeping, picking pockets, whatever.
June Kress is the executive director of the Council for Court Excellence. She headed up a recent report on the unemployment rate among ex-offenders in D.C.
MS. JUNE KRESS
Of the 8,000 that return annually from prison and jail, something like half will return in a period of three years. That's pretty high.
One of the main factors that determine whether someone will go back to crime, Kress says, is whether or not he or she is employed. In D.C., the council reports more than 10 percent of the population has a criminal record.
I think it's a well known fact in the district that a lot of -- this is concentrated East of the river, Ward 7 and 8 so families being broken up and then broken up again. And if you can't get a job, you're not spending money, you're not putting money back into the community so the idea of these communities sort of being lifted out of, you know, extreme poverty, it's a very difficult thing to do.
Ward 8 council member Marion Barry is pushing legislation that would allow employers to find out if someone has a criminal record, only after a conditional job offer has been made. The Council for Court Excellence has a different set of recommendations. The first of which is creating a program for certificates of good standing which could show employers that you're free and clear to work. Kress says the city council should also enact liability protection for employers who hire people who were previously incarcerated.
Will somebody get hired because of a certificate of good standing? Maybe not, but at least they can get to the interview stage, which is more than what people are getting to now.
Butler shows me a bulletin board right by the front door of his building. It's overflowing with job postings, information about free meals and upcoming job training sessions. Earlier this year, Butler did manage to find a job as a dishwasher, but it didn't last long.
I was employed at Serendipity Restaurant. I had a job for a day and a half. I was called in by the executive chef and a sue chef and they noticed my hand shaking.
Butler had been sober for a year at that point and says the shaking was from his neurological disorder, essential tremors, not alcoholism.
And the first question they asked me was, did I need a drink? Anyway, I was released from that job.
Butler says his parole officers advised him to claim disability, but like many Americans who are out of work right now, he doesn't just want income, he wants a job. And, he says, most other returning citizens do, too.
Once they come from prison, where you all going to send them to? You're not going to put them on a desert island. They're coming to the community and we're part of that community. So welcome us, you know, welcome us.
According to June Kress, of the Council for Court Excellence, a job offer might be the only chance to stop the rotating door between the street and prison, making it possible for ex-offenders to walk down the road they wish they'd taken to begin with. I'm Emily Friedman.
Time now for a quick break. But when we get back, commuters versus the community, how the need to get people in and out of D.C. has affected the city's neighborhoods.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1
They wanted to get commuters in and out of the city and when your sole focus is on driving commuters, then you can destroy and disconnect neighborhoods. And I think that's basically what it's done.
Plus, unbuilt ideas for some of Washington's most iconic public spaces.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1
Even into the 20th century, there was a proposal to flood the National Mall and create a kind of a modern day Venice.
It's coming up on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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