In the first book published by her New York-based Resilience Multimedia
, Sheila Rule delivers much-needed information to a segment of society that has long been ignored: the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated. In 'Think Outside The Cell: An Entrepreneur's Guide for the Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated'
by Joseph Robinson
, readers learn vital information, including how to overcome obstacles that convicted felons face while trying to reenter society and have successful lives.
Rule, who worked at The New York Times for 30 years before her recent retirement, was spurred to start her publishing company after writing to the incarcerated as a volunteer for the Riverside Church Prison Ministry. With funding from the Ford Foundation, she plans to publish next year the 'Think Outside the Cell' book series featuring real-life stories by the incarcerated, formerly incarcerated and their families. Rule takes time to talk about the book with AOL Black Voices.AOL Black Voices: How did you come up with the idea for the book? Sheila Rule:
Joe's book has been published amid renewed efforts to help the formerly incarcerated-who are disproportionately black and Latino-successfully reenter society. But Joe believes that the reentry programs being developed, while commendable, too often focus on finding jobs in a nation where, according to a Princeton University study, it is easier for a white person with a felony conviction to get a job than for a black person who has never been arrested. Joe believes that "Think Outside the Cell" presents a largely unexplored option-entrepreneurship-that can help give men and women leaving prison a realistic second chance. BV: How big a problem is it for ex-cons to find a job? SR:
The breadth of the problem is stunning. Although one of the chief factors influencing the reduction of recidivism is a person's ability to gain a good job, employers often won't hire workers with criminal records. In his book, 'But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry,'
Jeremy Travis, a national leader on reentry issues, quotes surveys showing that fewer than 40 percent of all employers said they would "definitely" or "probably" hire an applicant with a criminal record for an unskilled job. And in addition to these biases against this population, there are legal barriers and restrictions that make it difficult or impossible for them to be employed in a number of occupations. BV
: Do they end up on the dole or just doing nothing? SR:
Since the incarcerated are not a monolithic group, what becomes of them is a complicated picture. Some become successful by any measure. Others take the traditional route of working in the social services field as drug counselors or peer counselors, and some work in construction or similar fields. Still others work off the books in the underground economy. But far too many end up back in prison, which should not be all that surprising. After all, if they are barred from the building blocks of life that other Americans have free access to-from renting an apartment and getting a job to qualifying for an occupational license-they are more likely to commit a crime than they would be if they had options that most of us take for granted. Approximately 700,000 of these men and women will return to society this year. And when they come home, the long and uncompromising shadow of their incarceration will follow them. That shadow will so dramatically obscure their humanity from others that the kind of support that they need in order to realize their plans of reintegrating into their communities and building meaningful lives will be tantamount to so much wishful thinking. Disclosure: Sheila Rule and I were colleagues at The New York Times.