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Oklahoma Work Program Helps Get Former Inmates Back On Their Feet

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Finding a job is tough enough, but try adding a criminal background to the search, and that's where the Center for Employment Opportunities steps in. Finding a job is tough enough, but try adding a criminal background to the search, and that's where the Center for Employment Opportunities steps in.
Participants are currently helping the city of Moore by replacing tornado-damaged street signs with new ones. Participants are currently helping the city of Moore by replacing tornado-damaged street signs with new ones.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

A new job program out of New York and California is working to place Oklahoma men and women with checkered pasts in permanent positions.

Finding a job is tough enough, but try adding a criminal background to the search, and that's where the Center for Employment Opportunities steps in. CEO, or Center for Employment Opportunities is a program that trains newly released prisoners on how to land work. 

Cutting grass, putting up poles and trimming trees are some of the jobs that former inmates do in the Center for Employment Opportunities training program. Participants are currently helping the city of Moore by replacing tornado-damaged street signs with new ones.

Tony Wilson, 51, served 27 years in prison for a number of crimes before being released in 2009. He says many employers wouldn't give his resume a second look.

"It's been very difficult, very difficult. I made some bad choices, but I'm growing, and CEO has given me the opportunity now to basically get in the working field," Wilson said.

"I'm an older guy. I'm an O.G. So I'm getting the opportunity to help other guys learn skills while improving my own."

Each ex-con's parole officer refers them to CEO, which then trains them for a few months while paying them minimum wage each day to do various jobs. CEO state director Kelly Doyle says Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than another state and ranks about 4th when it comes to men in prison.

"We have an incarceration problem, and we have about 8,000 people being released from prison every year, and we need to be able to bring them back into the fold if we don't want them going right back [to crime]," Doyle said.

"We believe that regardless of their past mistakes, they're out, they're in our community and they need a job." 

Wilson says he isn't looking back, but looking forward to all the training program affords them.

"I like any landscaping work. I like to cut grass and drive trucks, and hopefully, being in this opportunity in this area, I can get that chance," Wilson said.

Since Aug. 2013, CEO has started helping more than 70 men and women find jobs, and so far, it has placed around 20 in jobs. Program directors say it typically takes about two to four months for participants to land a job. It takes in all former inmates, except for those convicted of sex crimes or arson.

Learn more about the CEO training program.

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