Ex-Convict Goes Job Hunting: The Hardest Career Turnaround

Ex-convict William CorbinWhen William Corbin's girlfriend told him that she was pregnant, he did what he thought was called for: He dropped out of high school to devote himself to drug dealing. He was 15 years old. "I [had to] step up to the plate," the 30-year-old Mt. Vernon, N.Y., native (pictured at right) says. "I needed money."

By the time he was 23, he had three children and had served a 4½-year term in jail for drug possession, and was essentially unhirable. (He became a father for the fourth time when he was 28.) Some 13 million Americans spend time in prison or jail each year, and the majority struggle to find jobs when they get out, as they often have few marketable skills. While it's illegal to discriminate against applicants on the basis of their criminal records, employers still may do so; one study found that a job applicant with a conviction was nearly 50 percent less likely to be called back or receive a job offer, NPR reports.

More: How Convicts Get Jobs Without Lying

Corbin, however, managed to beat the odds and turn his life around. Most recently, he put in a two-year stint working as a material handler at WeRecycle, a Mount Vernon, N.Y.-based organization that converts electronic waste into usable material. "This couldn't be more different than selling crack cocaine," he says. "I am actually helping people." How he turned around his life provides lessons for many other job hunters who are struggling to overcome the stigma of a conviction and launch a new career.

How His Drug Dealing Began

Growing up in Mt. Vernon, Corbin says that he was surrounded by drug dealing. "I had been seeing kids doing that on the street after school for as long as I could remember," he says. At age of 15, he was dealing crack cocaine and the father of three children, all of whom had different mothers. Brief stints in the Westchester County Jail turned into a 4½-year prison term for drug possession in 2003. "You would think I would have learned my lesson, but it was addictive doing things on my own," he says.

Corbin finally reached bottom in prison. "Being in the 'hole,' [solitary confinement] for the entire summer of 2004 is what did it for me," he says, adding that his grandmother and father both died while he was in solitary confinement.

An Ex-Con With No Skills Has 'No Chance'

So when he was released in 2007, he vowed to take a new path. But what are the prospects for a 23-year-old high school dropout with children to support and a lengthy history of drug convictions? The only work he could get was stocking a freezer in a local delicatessen. "Job searching on your own -- you basically have no chance," he says.

Corbin contacted the local social services agency, which, in turned, referred him to Westhab Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps low-income families and ex-convicts find employment and affordable living. The organization initially set Corbin up cleaning parks and working as a flagger for Con Edison. But when the power company stopped paying for gasoline for their flaggers in 2011, he knew that he would need a different full-time job to support his family, he says.

Getting Trained For A New Career

On the advice of his counselor, Michael Stevens, an assistant director at Westhab, Corbin attended local job fairs in Westchester and joined WeRecycle, which requires its handlers have expertise with electronic waste. For most workers, monthlong training is needed to master the disassembling, but he says that he learned the work in two weeks.

According to NPR, about 1 in 5 Americans has some kind of criminal record. Within three years of release, 67 percent of former prisoners are rearrested and 52 percent are re-incarcerated. But Corbin dove into the fledgling green industry, which proved personally satisfying, he says.

He says that he now goes into interviews prepared to address his past. "I was young, and I made my mistakes in trying to support my family," he says that he tells prospective employers. "I didn't look at how it might affect me. But the experience has made me a better man."

In 2011, Corbin was hired by WeRecycle, which works in cooperation with the county government. He came in at a salary of $13.50 an hour, working 8-hour days, as a material handler disassembling a range of products including cars and computers at a plant in Mount Vernon, NY. The material is then repurposed, and sold to companies for new production.

More: 10 Things You Should Never Say In A Job Interview

His work ethic immediately made him stand out at Westhab. "A lot of former convicts just come through here, and prefer to be done with the process," after one review of a resume, says Dean Simms, a career counselor at Westhab. "William was a perfectionist. He just goes over everything, like his resume, time and again."

Recently, Corbin resigned from his job at WeRecyle after the organization needed him to move to working evening shift, something he said he can't do because of his parenting responsibilities. So he has returned to Westhab. Stevens says it's just a "matter of time" before Corbin "bounces back" and lands a new job. Corbin says he is open to any job, "where I can grow."

Even now that he's jobless again, Corbin says he's never tempted to return to the big money life of his drug dealing days. "It's not worth it, and not just because my kids are getting bigger," he says. "I think about all the people I would be letting down. My freedom has just become more important than anything. Dealing is really a selfish life."

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This article is just propaganda! They want anyone with a felony conviction to be happy about a job that pays 13.50 an hour!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How is that the moral of the story? If I went through all of that and only got paid 13.50 I would go back to selling crack. The writer of this "feel good" story is full of crap. You think it's a great story until you get to the part at the end where he is only getting paid that little tiny bit. How is that a happy ending?

January 25 2014 at 10:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Angela J Shirley

It is so sad when an individual is pushed into life decisions that are not right for them. Here is a man that is once again unemployed at the writing of this article. Then we wonder why so many of them return to crime. What are we doing to prevent this? Now it is hard for the ones without a criminal record and over 50 like myself. It is time for society to pressure our government into helping criminals, veterans (both injured and not) and over 50. Somehow these categories are falling through the crack. I fit into the last category and have been challenged with finding a stable income since being laid off for the 3rd time in 2008. I now have a petition on Change.org which will go to the President asking him to set up programs that reward companies that hire the homeless knowing that they may not have the best wardrobe or a way to work. We have to start somewhere to get things changed. http://rockportinstitute.com/

December 12 2013 at 8:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

gee, I get to pay for his 3 kids. A real stand up guy.NOT

March 09 2013 at 11:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

if his idae of "stepping up to the plate" is drug dealingI can see why employers would be a wee bit reluctant to hie him.

March 09 2013 at 11:22 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Why do women have children with men who can't support them? I guess they figure they'll sucker some other dude to take care of them. Ya right, like we want that baggage. Well, I want ex-cons to find a job to support themselves so they're not out killing or robbing people.

March 09 2013 at 10:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Linda Niemczyk

I was charged with a drug offense, (selling). I cannot find a good job. I have the felony conviction and a disability. This is a life sentence. This punishment does not fit the crime. I've gotten my life back together and it's almost impossible to move forward. The system must change so that people like me can improve and not resort to the life of crime that is so rampant. It's no wonder most return to jail/prison. That is only way to make money to survive. It's a bad choice but sometimes it's the only choice.

March 09 2013 at 9:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Men like this are disgusting. Four kids, no way to support them so they turn to crime. The most confusing day in the ghetto IS father's day.

March 09 2013 at 9:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to petpetdon's comment

I cant tell if your statement is more racist, clueless or bigoted ? Please be more clear with your bs next time

March 10 2013 at 1:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I pray that they make the right decisions and don't go back to what they did. I am with a man 8 years now that did some time, he diecided that that was not the kind of life he wanted. he read books and stayed out of trouble while he was in..........when he got out he started for a company digging ditches for $5.00 an hour and now 25 years later he is one of their top guys..........so my point is you make decisions and you live by them.

March 09 2013 at 6:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

His fifteen year ols girl friend was pregnnant...he dropped out of High School to devote all his time to drug dealing...now with mulible convictions with actions and decisions like that ....I don't see too much hope..
I hope he makes it !!

March 09 2013 at 6:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

He asked for it, he got it, TOYOTA.

March 09 2013 at 4:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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