12/26/17 — Earning a second chance

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Earning a second chance

By Joey Pitchford
Published in News on December 26, 2017 5:50 AM

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Members of the Mirakal's Love for Lives, MLFL, trash pickup crew finish their day's work at the intersection of Hooks River Road and U.S. 117 on Thursday. Weather permitting, the three-man crew works five days a week under a contract with the city of Goldsboro. MLFL is a re-entry program that helps those who have recently been released from prison find a way to earn income and work toward changing their lives.

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After filling one bag, James Archer pulls an empty bag from his pocket to continue picking up trash along Hooks River Road with the MLFL crew.

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Niaka Bryant helps Dennis Atwater put a larger piece of trash into a bag as they clean the roadside of Hooks River Road.

For those coming out of prison, there is not always a clear path back to society.

A criminal record is a red flag for many employers, so even after one has paid their debt to society, he or she is likely to find it harder make an honest living.

Goldsboro non-profit Mirakal's Love for Lives is working to help bridge that gap by partnering with the city of Goldsboro to give former inmates work cleaning up the streets where they live.

Thomas Rice, director of MLFL, started the program in July of 2015. Rice, who spent 14 years in prison for non-violent crimes, said he was fortunate to land on his feet when he got out.

"I wanted to do something to help, because I've been to prison, and God brought me to this," he said. "When I got out, I ran into some issues, but my family was very supportive of me through all of my time. So I guess you could say I got lucky."

Others around him did not have the same experience. It is those people whom Rice hopes to help through MLFL. The organization works with the city to provide a paying job picking up garbage along city streets. From there, the hope is that the members can use their new work experience to land better jobs, with MLFL acting as a reference to their work ethic.

James Archer frequently got into trouble during his teens and early 20s. Arrested for "crimes of desperation," as he called them, such as larceny, Archer spent time in jail. After getting out, he was homeless, sleeping in different places and trying to find work. Archer said his criminal record made his search for a job demoralizing.

"Here on [Berkeley Boulevard], you could say there are 20 businesses right here. You could go to all 20, 10 of them will tell you that you don't qualify because of your background," he said. "Five may put you through a process where they say they'll call you back, and you might get five who want to hire you but they're hesitant because of what happened."

Having so many people turn you down is discouraging, Archer said, and often leads those with criminal records to give up trying to find a job. Finding MLFL "by the grace of God" helped him to break out of that situation. Archer has been working with MLFL for around three weeks, he said, and enjoys the feeling of earning a consistent paycheck by doing something constructive.

That's the best part of it, man, earning it," he said with a smile. "It's good to know that you've always got something coming at the end of those two weeks."

Archer hopes to one day return to school and finish the HV/AC training which was derailed by his time behind bars. He has already completed a two-year apprenticeship, and has his sights set on becoming an engineer some time in the future.

For Rice, MLFL is about showing the community that former inmates have plenty to offer, and are capable of being productive members of society if given the chance. The group still needs donations to continue its work, and Rice is hoping to involve the community even further as MLFL grows.

"We're just here to show people that this can be done, and we're going to do it," he said. "We just need a little help to keep it going."