Bridgeport Job Fair Gives Ex-Offenders ‘Second Chance’
BRIDGEPORT — Wilfredo Perez stood in the plaza outside of the downtown government center.
Perez, 39, was released from the prison system three weeks ago after two and a half years.
“It’s scary, especially when you’re trying to do the right thing,” Perez said. “Going out there, waking up early in the morning, going to get it.”
On Wednesday Perez and dozens of other ex-offenders were hustling for “it” — work — at a job fair tailored specifically to them.
From 9:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. they filed in to the first floor conference room, dressed as appropriately for the occasion as possible, resumes in hand, seeking that frustratingly elusive “second chance.”
“It’s the first one (job fair for ex-offenders) I’ve personally ever heard,” said Gary James, 41. “It made me curious.”
Unlike Perez, James’ association with the corrections system ended a decade ago.
“I’m still running into issues,” he said. James believes his record cost him positions at both Walmart and SNET, now Frontier Communications.
He said he got a good feeling from the employers gathered in the government center.
“Everybody’s nice, hospitable,” James said. “Normally you walk in and as soon as it’s mentioned of any record, you pick up on eyes, expressions. ... I didn’t see any of that.”
Career Resources back to top
The event was organized by Bridgeport-based Career Resources and one of its newest employees, a man who like a second and even-third chance mascot: Ex-state Sen. Ernie Newton, who served time for corruption and is currently appealing last year’s conviction for breaking campaign finance laws during an attempted political comeback in 2012.
“This was a beautiful occasion,” Newton, as always the best-dressed person in the room, said.
Although only about half of the two dozen companies that had committed to attending showed up, Newton said all applicants will get a phone call to schedule an interview.
“I asked the companies if they would just hire one person,” Newton said.
Frank Borres, a city activist and local businessman, is the community representative for the developer behind the ongoing harbor front Steel Point project. He took about 40 applications to share with contractors.
“Unfortunately a lot of my neighbors have had a (criminal) history,” Borres said. “But you know what? A good worker is a good worker.”
Another second-chance celebrity — Mayor Joe Ganim — also stopped by the job fair. Like Newton, Ganim is another infamous fallen Bridgeport politician. His comeback, however, was successful and as of December 2015 Ganim is again running Connecticut’s largest city.
“How’d it go in there?” Ganim asked Perez and two other men leaving the government center. “Keep pushing, know what I mean?”
“We should be doing this,” said Ganim, who last year opened a city office elsewhere on the first floor where ex-offenders can turn for assistance seeking jobs and other needs. “Hopefully there’s positive results.”
Columbus Barnes, 57, has been out of jail for 24 years, and Alfred Smith, 48, free for twelve. Walking out of the job fair the garrulous men said they were grateful for the opportunity, but realistic about their chances, likening the event to a cattle call.
Smith said it can be a frustrating experience trying to live life with a criminal record, no matter how long ago the conviction occurred.
“A lot of people make the rules for us, but they haven’t been where we’ve been,” he said.
Newton emphasized to Wednesday’s applicants that, if they are hired, they a given a great responsibility.
“There are 1,000 other inmates coming out. You’ve got to do a good job because you represent who comes after you,” Newton said. “And if you mess up ... you’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing the men and women who come after you.”