With A Plan And 2 Jobs, One Ithaca Woman Builds A New Life After Prison

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ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – When Shanakia Gray was getting ready to leave prison, she wrote down a plan. She wanted to get a car, go to college and become a therapist. But first, she needed two jobs. But getting a job after prison is one of the biggest challenges returning home. Gray talked about her experience at a recent job fair in Ithaca aimed at connecting employers with folks with a criminal record.

Shanakia Gray got out of prison in October. She’s gotten those two jobs and even a promotion to help raise her two small children.

Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Media

Shanakia Gray (R) standing with Omar Ferron, her manager at one of her two jobs.

“When I came home all I had to my name was my kids,” Gray said. “You know, I lost my furniture; I lost my apartment that I had; I lost everything. But, it’s OK because the things that I’m gaining now, working and staying focussed — there’s no, there’s no better feeling than that.”

Gray’s two felony convictions are a huge obstacle for anyone trying to find a job after coming home. Nationally, there’s a big push to get employers to remove questions about criminal convictions from job applications.

The impact of doing that is mixed. With the same resume, white men with a criminal record had a better chance of getting hired than a black man without one.

Basically, without asking, employers seem to assume black men have a criminal record and exclude them from the hiring pool.

When Gray gets tired, she reads over the piece of paper she wrote her plan on.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “But, you know, as I look back five months where I was and the things that I had been through, this is the plan that I set for myself: to have two jobs to get back on my feet.”

With a couple more paychecks, she’ll have enough money to buy a car. Then, she’ll start planning for college. She wants to become a therapist.