When Antonio McGowan walked out of the Mississippi State Penitentiary, he needed stable work, a paycheck, and busyness. But who hires ex-prisoners? Turns out, a widespread U.S. labor shortage is helping McGowan and others like him.
After 17 years in prison, McGowan had learned the importance of a routine. However, after his release, he became trapped in a cycle of temporary jobs and odd hours. He trimmed grass one week and painted houses the next. He couldn’t land anything full time, and irregular income proved challenging. Utility disconnection notices and unpaid bills piled up.
“Things weren’t in place,” he says. “It was a struggle.”
After several years adrift, McGowan finally regained his footing. He received help from the Hinds County Reentry Program, a workforce training service for former inmates.
Reentry programs are one way U.S. employers are trying to fill millions of open jobs amid a national labor shortage.
In better economic times, many former prisoners faced steep obstacles to finding work. The shortage sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic presents them with opportunities, says Eric Beamon. He’s a recruiter for MagCor, a company that provides training to people in Mississippi correctional facilities.
“We think the pandemic, in a sense, was a big help,” Beamon says. “Employers are begging for employees.”
Programs like Hinds County Reentry and MagCor help make former inmates more desirable as candidates by properly training them.
Some studies show that stable jobs are a major factor in reducing reoffending. Still, not everyone is willing to hire an ex-convict.
But employers’ current situations could help spur change. In a 2021 survey, 53% of employers said they would be willing to hire people with criminal records—up from 37% in 2018.
McGowan now works in air conditioning and heating repair with Upchurch Services. That company allows workers to take classes in repair services while gaining experience in the field. He loves the work.
“Summer, winter, spring, or fall, you’ll need either heat or air conditioning,” he says. “It can keep me in the working class, so I don’t fall back into the things I used to do.”
McGowan calls his current work more than just a job.
“It’s the look on someone’s face,” he says. “I spent so many years hurting people. So I know the look people have when they feel hurt. To see the reverse of that, it’s enough to make me happy.”
Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” — Acts 20:35
Why? Every human is a sinner worthy of death. Yet Jesus commands Christians to love, forgive, and be kind—even to those who might seem undeserving.