Action Plan for Ex-Offenders

Last week, on March 21st, four Oakland Police officers were killed in the line of duty. An ex-offender, 27 years old, had violated his parole and had a warrant out for his arrest. A routine traffic stop turned into a battle that ended with his death amongst the four officers noted. The mass memorial service for all four officers in Oakland was attended by the entire Oakland Police Department force along with over 20,000 members of the community and televised on almost every local station in the Bay Area on March 27th. This story truly struck a cord with many in uniform across the nation and with many community members in the Bay Area.

This story struck a personal cord with me, with family and friends on both ends.

It upset me that this young man had a chance to turn his life around after getting parole only to get killed going back to his offenses. I remembered how during my first year of being educated on providing counseling and job training, (ironically also in Oakland), I worked not only with the homeless community, but also with ex-offenders. More then I can count that year did I see ex-offenders get hired in positions they never thought they were even qualified for. Participating in many workshops and trainings throughout the years thereafter, I would almost always meet at least one individual who was an ex-offender that went from having a negative to a positive outlook on what they can achieve; and what an accomplishment they have become!

Below is what I have learned since that year on better helping ex-offenders in their job search as a start to their new rehabilitated life. Those who wanted to truly make those mistakes learning stones and a thing of the past by having a positive outlook on what they can achieve.

Action Plan for Ex-Offenders
If you think you can’t get a job because you are an ex-offender and/or out on parole, think again! The number one reason you may never break this barrier is because you simply don’t want too. Making the excuse that no one will hire you because you are an ex-offender isn’t the way to go. You must be willing, determined and have a positive approach to your job search. You need to develop an action plan on how to you’ll get back on your feet to walk the better paths.

First, you need to be fully aware of what your charges were and that there are no errors of any kind. The US Department of Labor notes that any “inaccurate information may give an unnecessarily negative profile of the individual.” This means that you don’t want to state in your applications and interviews that you were convicted of one offense and the employer does a background check only to find other offenses. You would lose the chance of being hired not because of your offense, but the pretense that you lied to them. So make sure you are all set there by getting a copy of your records and going through them with your attorney or assigned probation/parole officer.

When you have all that information set, you need to learn what kind of work you can actually hold. There are federal laws that prohibit and regulate that those with certain convictions of or involving dishonesty, breach of trust, money laundering or participation in a pretrial diversion program for those offenses cannot work in the financial industry in any position with access to money. For example, if you were convicted of theft, you can’t be a teller at a bank. Many states also have similar laws that detail specific industries an ex-offender may not work in depending on their convictions. For example, certain positions with such prohibitions tend to be in industries where those deemed “vulnerable” are directly involved. Such industries include childcare, education, security, nursing and home health care.

That may come off negative but you can’t simply expect to be given such a risky chance without willing to prove that you have changed, learned and can be of a major asset to the employer as well as society. Note though that an employer has the right and responsibility to determine the conviction in relation to the position to be filled. The factors an employer should put in considerations are:

  1. How long ago was the offense?
  2. How old were you when the offense took place?
  3. What was the nature and gravity of the conviction?
  4. What efforts have you made toward rehabilitation?

What can help you, especially with the last factor there, is if you have all your documents in order along with your resume such as any certifications you received as well as a recommendation letter from your assigned probation/parole officer. That takes us to the next step in your action plan. Depending on where you live (and funds available for these programs especially during these difficult economic times), there are many support groups, training programs, courses at local community colleges and even job fairs for ex-offenders. These types of information and resources your officer would almost always know about. Make sure to always be in touch with your officer and never, I mean NEVER, miss a meeting. Its when you can showcase to your officer your action plan and commitment to being a better person that they can be of a better support system to you!

Aside from the steps discussed in the Career Development Guidebook (and throughout this blog) there are extra steps to take to better overcome this barrier of being an ex-offender looking for work. You must always be confident that your conviction, aside from the laws stated above, doesn’t eliminate your chances of being a good candidate for the position you are applying for. Make sure before turning in your application and resume to the company, that you check with the employer if there are any specific convictions that can disqualify you from the position your applying for. This could be that they have certain policies complying with state laws or as mentioned above, what relation the conviction is to the position open. Be sure to note the person’s name and position in the company as this will be important in your application and interview.

When you fill out your application, under where it asks you of any felonies or convictions, BE HONEST! Don’t detail everything in your application! You can write something like, “Will be pleased to discuss during interview.” If someone told you that your conviction doesn’t disqualify you, make sure to add that note after your response, “conviction does not automatically disqualify according to name, job title.” I would also put your assigned officer’s name and number for a reference. This assures the employer that even before they interview you, that you have been making the efforts because your assigned officer is willing to give you a reference!

During the interview, the conviction without a doubt will come up as you noted that you’d be pleased to discuss it then. You do not need to detail everything that happened. You want to say something along the lines of, “When I spoke with name, the job title, I was very pleased that I would be seen for my experience and skills before my conviction. My conviction was _____. Since then, I have participated in a _____ program where I graduated and expanded on my skills in _____. Currently I utilize these skills by volunteering at _____ and hope to obtain this position where I can utilize these skills and learn new ones.” You want to highlight all the positives arising from your conviction. You don’t want to bad mouth anyone or put yourself on the defensive. This isn’t the place, the time or the person to be delving all that information too.

With your action plan, you should be able to break that barrier. Remember, you are confident because you are now a better person then the mistake you made. Be honest, be positive, be willing to ask for support and you will find yourself in a much better place then you were.

To learn more about available programs and support systems in your area, make sure to check the US Department of Labor’s Web site, be in contact with your assigned probation/parole officer and connect with your network. You can always send me an email with your question and expect a response!

Interview Facts

Interview Facts
CDG, Step 5: Interview Preparation

Here are 10 basic interview facts to remember…

1. The interview is meant to be a conversation between the candidate and the company in order to discover whether there is a fit with the company’s needs as well as a fit with the candidate’s needs.

2. The interviewer can often make the decision about the candidate in the first three to five minutes of the interview.

3. An interview is in some ways unfair. Who can figure one out in five minutes or even two hours? At best, interviews are an imperfect way of accepting or rejecting an impression of the candidate and/or the company environment.

4. Most people don’t talk enough during an interview (due to nervousness or lack of interpersonal skills). Candidates should initiate discussion and let the interviewer know of their interest in the position to be filled.

5. During an interview, a candidate’s interpersonal skills are tested. Interpersonal skills are as important as a candidate’s background, experience and education.

6. The best interviewees do it fast by setting the tone of the interview in the first few minutes, then spending the rest of the time enhancing what’s been said.

7. The interviewer is more likely to remember the interviewee’s negatives then positives.

8. Confidence is sitting up straight, head high and eye contact with the interviewer. Body language can speak volumes louder then words

9. A “thank you” note, card or even an email after the initial interview can make the chances of being hired even higher. Such simple acts can add to the impression left during the beginning of the initial interview.

10. One may get a job without a resume, but definitely not without an interview.

18 & Jobless?!

I recently responded to a Yahoo! Answers question by an 18 year old individual looking for work and needing a few tips. Click here to check out my response and other good ones to his question.

 

Goal Planning

The first step before starting almost anything is knowing what your goals are. Don’t just say for example, “I want to be an architect”, but you need to ask yourself a few questions:
“What kind of architect do I want to be?”
“What skills do I have that qualify me as architect?”
“Which university has the best architecture program?”
“Do they offer job placement, internship or temp jobs programs to expand on my skills?”
“Where can I go to find an internship or temporary job?”
“What do I need to do to find an internship or temporary job?”

It gets a bit expanded and sometimes it can get a bit complex.

I want you to take out a sheet of blank paper and create your goal plan*. On top, put what your ultimate goal. For the sake of example, let’s say your ultimate goal is “Become an Architect.” Under that, write “5 Year Goal” and write what your goal is in the next 5 years. It could be that you want to graduate with a specified architectural degree by the year 2014. Under that, write “1 Year Goal” and write what your goal is in this next year. Do the same for your one month goal and your one week goal. These two help you see where you are at now, what you need to complete throughout the year towards your ultimate goal.

Your one month goal could be to have at least 5 applications with required essays, statements and letters of recommendations ready to be turned in at your desired universities. Your one week goal then can be listed as follows:
– Research and speak with different university admissions advisers and/or program directors.
– Have a personal statement drafted out to be applied to my master university application

For that week’s daily tasks, you’ll be listing tasks that you need to do that take you closer to your one week goal, one month goal, one year goal, five year goal. For example, your task for today is to draft your goal plan on becoming an architect. Tomorrow, your tasks are to research all university architectural programs in your city and to look up 2 articles on the industry.

Now that you get the idea, I suggest two things:
1. On a sheet with your ultimate goal where you will see it at least once a day. When you have a constant reminder of what you want to accomplish it makes it difficult to drift away from the tasks at hand towards that accomplishment. It also helps keep you motivated and positive, which in turn helps attract that good vibe and energy while you are working on those listed tasks.
2. List at least your monthly goals, weekly goals and daily tasks where it is convenient. For example, if you carry around a planner or use your phone’s calendar. This way, you have it with you all the time, can easily make any necessary changes as well as save lots and lots of trees.

What does Hala do?

I put all my weekly goals and daily tasks in my phone’s calendar while noting my monthly, yearly and five year goal plan in a private journal. That way, I constantly see the journal and have a reminder going off almost every few hours in my pocket of what I’m working towards.

From time to time, I’ll change the background on my phone to a picture from my graduation in 2005 so that I’m motivated towards my upcoming ultimate goal of completing my MBA. These types of things help me keep a smile on my face when I’m frustrated with any homework assignments or a project like I am now.

Feel free to share your goals here as well as any questions you may have about goal planning.

Until next time, remember again that looking for a job is a full time job in itself… so get busy!

A Letter from Imam Magid of DC regarding Sister Aasiya Zubair

As someone who has worked on domestic violence cases in the community (and sort of still does), this letter is very empowering!

I do want to add that domestic violence is not always with the man as the abuser as well as it is not only physical, it is also emotional and mental too.

Jazak Allah kheer Imam Magid for this empowering letter! Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Sister Aasiya… enna Lillah we enna Elayhy rage’un…

DC’s Imam Magid on the tragic Beheading of Sister Aasiya (Zubair) Hassan
By Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali
Executive Director, ADAMS Center
Vice-President, The Islamic Society of North America

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is saddened and shocked by the news of the loss of one of our respected sisters, Aasiya Hassan whose life was taken violently.

To God we belong and to Him we return (Qur’an 2:156).

We pray that she find peace in God’s infinite Mercy, and our prayers and sympathies are with sister Aasiya’s family. Our prayers are also with the Muslim community of Buffalo who have been devastated by the loss of their beloved sister and the shocking nature of this incident.

This is a wake up call to all of us, that violence against women is real and can not be ignored. It must be addressed collectively by every member of our community. Several times each day in America, a woman is abused or assaulted. Domestic violence is a behavior that knows no boundaries of religion, race, ethnicity, or social status. Domestic violence occurs in every community. The Muslim community is not exempt from this issue. We, the Muslim community, need to take a strong stand against domestic violence. Unfortunately, some of us ignore such problems in our community, wanting to think that it does not occur among Muslims or we downgrade its seriousness.

I call upon my fellow imams and community leaders to never second-guess a woman who comes to us indicating that she feels her life to be in danger. We should provide support and help to protect the victims of domestic violence by providing for them a safe place and inform them of their rights as well as refer them to social service providers in our areas.

Marriage is a relationship that should be based on love, mutual respect and kindness. No one who experiences a marriage that is built on these principles would pretend that their life is in danger. We must respond to all complaints or reports of abuse as genuine and we must take appropriate and immediate action to ensure the victim’s safety, as well as the safety of any children that may be involved.

Women who seek divorce from their spouses because of physical abuse should get full support from the community and should not be viewed as someone who has brought shame to herself or her family. The shame is on the person who committed the act of violence or abuse. Our community needs to take a strong stand against abusive spouses. We should not make it easy for people who are known to abuse to remarry if they have already victimized someone. We should support people who work against domestic violence in our community, whether they are educators, social service providers, community leaders, or other professionals.

As Allah says in the Qur’an: “O ye who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do” (4:136).

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) never hit a women or child in his life. The purpose of marriage is to bring peace and tranquility between two people, not fear, intimidation, belittling, controlling, or demonizing. Allah the All-Mighty says in the Qur’an: “Among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are signs for those who reflect” (30:21),

We must make it a priority to teach our young men in the community what it means to be a good husband and what the role the husband has as a protector of his family. The husband is not one who terrorizes or does harm and jeopardizes the safety of his family. At the same time, we must teach our young women not to accept abuse in any way, and to come forward if abuse occurs in the marriage. They must feel that they are able to inform those who are in authority and feel comfortable confiding in the imams and social workers of our communities.

Community and family members should support a woman in her decision to leave a home where her life is threatened and provide shelter and safety for her. No imam, mosque leader or social worker should suggest that she return to such a relationship and to be patient if she feels the relationship is abusive. Rather they should help and empower her to stand up for her rights and to be able to make the decision of protecting herself against her abuser without feeling she has done something wrong, regardless of the status of the abuser in the community.

A man’s position in the community should not affect the imam’s decision to help a woman in need. Many disasters that take place in our community could have been prevented if those being abused were heard. Domestic violence is not a private matter. Any one who abuses their spouse should know that their business becomes the business of the community and it is our responsibility to do something about it. She needs to tell someone and seek advice and protection.

Community leaders should also be aware that those who isolate their spouses are more likely to also be physically abusive, as isolation is in its own way a form of abuse. Some of the abusers use the abuse itself to silence the women, by telling her “If you tell people I abused you, think how people will see you, a well-known person being abused. You should keep it private.”

Therefore, to our sisters, we say: your honor is to live a dignified life, not to put on the face that others want to see. The way that we measure the best people among us in the community is to see how they treat their families. It is not about how much money one makes, or how much involvement they have in the community, or the name they make for themselves. Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said, “The best among you are those who are best to their families.”

It was a comfort for me to see a group of imams in our local community, as well as in the MANA conference signing a declaration promising to eradicate domestic violence in our community. Healthy marriages should be part of a curriculum within our youth programs, MSA conferences, and seminars as well as part of our adult programs in our masajid and in our khutbahs.

The Islamic Society of North America has done many training workshops for imams on combating domestic violence, as has the Islamic Social Service Associate and Peaceful Families Project. Organizations, such as FAITH Social Services in Herndon, Virginia, serve survivors of domestic violence. All of these organizations can serve as resources for those who seek to know more about the issues of domestic violence.

Faith Trust Institute, one of the largest interfaith organizations, with Peaceful Families Project, has produced a DVD in which many scholars come together to address this issue. I call on my fellow imams and social workers to use this DVD for training others on the issues of domestic violence. (For information, go to the website of Peaceful Families.

In conclusion, Allah says in the Qur’an “O my son! Establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just, and forbid what is wrong; and bear with patient constancy whatever betide thee; for this is firmness (of purpose) in (the conduct of) affairs” (31:17). Let us pray that Allah will help us to stand for what is right and leave what is evil and to promote healthy marriages and peaceful family environments. Let us work together to prevent domestic violence and abuse and especially, violence against women.

I pray that she is brought to justice. May Allah have mercy on Aasiya and console her family and loved ones. Please make du’a for this women, whose promising life was cut too short. I hope that Muslim leaders heed this call and that more of us support women and children who are in danger.

-Imam Magid

The Unmentionable Evils, Muslim & Arab

After following this election for almost a year and a half now, a few things seem to bother me enough that after being away from writing, I feel more then ever to start writing again; starting with the forgotten perspective, the Muslim Arab American perspective. So here I go, starting fresh by writing this piece…

As much as this election has excited me, it has really irritated me. Why?

I’m a Muslim Arab American lady, born and raised in San Francisco to immigrant parents who came to live the American Dream (or may I say everyone’s dream for that matter). Now if I decide to run for public office to give back to this great nation, I’d get that questionable look. Ever since the launch of the presidential primaries, it seems that the first two of the four characteristics I’ve listed would make me a questionable candidate.

About a week ago, an angry lady at a McCain/Palin rally insisted that she read about Obama, on how she “doesn’t trust him” because “he’s an Arab.” How does McCain respond? He responds, and I quote, “No ma’am, no ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. That’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not, thank you.”

Oh McCain, I’m a decent citizen that also disagrees with you on many fundamental issues. Add to that Muslim and Arab, does that change my decent citizen factor?

Campbell Brown of CNN asked recently, “So what if Obama was Arab or Muslim? So what if John McCain was Arab or Muslim? Would it matter?”

No Brown, it wouldn’t matter. Yet to many McCain/Palin supporters it matters. Most of their supporters only support them due to Obama’s supposed race or religion. I mean how many times does the man have to state that he is neither Muslim nor Arab? How many times does he have to denounce the two as if they are unmentionable evils? How many times does he have to be offended of being called such words as if he was being called the “N” word? Will it soon be that Muslim will be the “M” word and Arab will be the “A” word?

The anger I’ve noticed coming out of this election is beyond belief that I have to keep checking the calendar to make sure we are in the 21st century! It has taken us as a nation way too long to get to where we are today. I think if anything, we are behind in our times to get to where we are today.

Just recently outside a McCain/Palin rally in Virginia, there was a group of individuals pushing a hateful agenda against Obama and “his Islamic ties.” I was glad to hear that not only several Muslim supporters of McCain/Palin, but non Muslim supporters stood up against this group until they walked off. Even a campaign director of the area that happened to be Muslim assured McCain/Palin supporters that that group was not with the campaign nor supported the campaign’s message.

As I applaud those who did not tolerate such angry ignorance, I still blame the leaders (which have been mainly GOP) that instilled this fear in such individuals to begin with! How much fear has to be instilled in us before we realize that a handful of “fundamentalists” don’t define what is Muslim or Arab? How much ignorance must we suffer before we decide to educate ourselves on what is Muslim, what is Arab?

If being Muslim and/or Arab is such an evil thing, then we are all basking in its evilness. Let me remind you oh great nation of just some of the major contributions that come from the unmentionable evils:

  • Much of the math that we study in our courses today such as Algebra and Trigonometry was introduced by Arabs. Yes, that includes 0 (zero), Arabic numerals and the reformation of the calendar! With mathematics, comes the understanding of calculating of time, degrees, longitudes and latitudes… oh, Astronomy!
  • Navigation and geography was just as important when Muslims developed them to better calculate and find the direction in which they are to pray in (ElQiblah as it is known). This includes the compass and the magnetic needle.
  • A faith that brought upon literature, poetry, philosophy and music to name a few, brings upon the inspiring designs such as many of today’s architecture across the world, including the many holy sites all of us faithfuls respect and worship in today.
  • Let me also add to this list much scientific studies and discoveries, medicines, alternative health treatments, engineering and craftsmanship.

To end my rant, I’d like to assure you all that you may say the words “Muslim” and “Arab.” I mean for crying out loud, Harry Potter mentions the unmentionable evil name of Lord Voldemort and he doesn’t get stuck by lighting! Ok he gets struck by a wand but he still lived!

Sources:
http://www.CNN.com
http://www.ADC.com
http://www.huffingtonpost.com