KANSAS CITY, MO — Mark Byrd is in the business of second chances.
An HVAC specialist by trade, his passion to help people re-entering society from the prison system started more than a decade ago when he started KC Redemtion and the New Reflections Technical Institute, a job training program that prepares students for their new life.
"We try to help them get to a point where they can survive and be sustainable and to have a good life, you know, and most of them never realized they could have it," he said.
He's helping students like Otis Steen, who went from the judicial system, to financial stability by becoming a truck driver.
"As a person looking from the outside in, it seemed like a dream, like a fantasy. But going through it, it's still like a dream, like a dream state, like, 'Wow, is this true?'" said Steen.
Employment reduced recidivism and makes communities safer. While Byrd believes in his students, it can be an uphill battle convincing employers to give them their second chance.
However, he’s noticed recently that the Great Resignation has been opening more doors.
"When we first started it, we had one company that was felon-friendly. Now, we have over 70," he said.
In November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said a record high of 4.5 million people quit their job that month alone. We’ve seen the impacts of the Great Resignation reflected in food service, deliveries, and supply chain tangles.
Every year, 600,000 Americans leave the judicial system looking for employment. Although more than 1 in 4 people re-entering society is unemployed, studies have shown that they stay at their jobs longer and are less likely to quit than the general workforce.
"This person here wants that opportunity. This is their second chance might even be their third chance, but in most cases, it's their last chance. So, when they get this opportunity there, their work starts at seven o'clock. They're there at 6:30, drinking coffee in their hand, ready to go," said Byrd.
"We get calls or emails on a weekly basis," said Dwayne Williams, the president and CEO of 12th Street Heritage Development Corporation in Kansas City.
A decade years ago, they started a re-entry program and are noticing exactly what Mark has been: more employers looking to hire their clients.
"We have individuals who are looking for jobs. And so now, they've got another resource that they can, that they can tap," Williams said.
"I think a lot of employers will be surprised at the work ethic of individuals who come out of the system, you know, because a lot of them, they really not trying to go back to the system," said Gary Riley.
Riley has been with 12th Street for years. He says getting that second chance turned his life around.
"It helped me be a better man for tomorrow. You know what I mean? It showed me how to dig within deep, within to be the leader that I know I can be the follower I know I can be," he said.
As people like Byrd and Williams continue to match their students with employers, they hope this trend of hiring more people looking for a second chance continues well after the great resignation subsides.
"I advise our employees to look deep into themselves and figure out that mistake they made and what they needed and who helped them, who helped them. Now, it's their time to help someone else, and we can rebuild America. We can rebuild our workforce," said Byrd.