From where he stands today, Kerry Owens is optimistic. He was released from an Illinois prison in November, after serving a year for retail theft. Owens, 41, has been in and out of the criminal justice system before, but his most recent sentence, for his first felony conviction, has changed his life forever.
He resolved to live differently by volunteering, kicking the addiction that led him to steal $300 worth of merchandise, and enrolling at a local community college. But as a convicted felon, it is now harder than ever to get a job, find an apartment and receive social services.
Owens previously worked as a custodian, and while in prison he earned a certificate for commercial custodian services. But persistent high unemployment and his felony record have left him looking for work. “There’s nothing out there,” he says. “They’re certifying us for jobs that don’t exist.”