The walls beyond a prison cell can be just as scary as they are exciting to an inmate awaiting release. Often times, newfound freedom means starting over from scratch, without a job or a place to call home.
Robert Albertie, a Jacksonville man who lost 16 years of his freedom serving out drug charges in a state penitentiary, recalls the strike of fear that hit his first day out. But unlike most inmates, he knew he had somewhere to turn to.
That somewhere was Operation New Hope, an organization rooted in downtown Jacksonville that rehabilitates ex-offenders and gets them back on their feet through training and job placement services.
Operation New Hope has three programs geared toward helping former inmates, ONH Development, Ready4Work and Breaking the Cycle. Ready4Work focuses on getting clients back into the job force. It is a yearlong program that starts with an intensive in-house training session where clients learn how to make themselves marketable through standardized testing, resume writing workshops, mock interviews and more career development based exercises. It also provides clients with basic needs such as clothing and shelter, so that they can put all of their focus on getting through the program.
Many similarities can be drawn between Ready4Work and a typical staffing agency. Brittany Anthony, the Director of Fund Development, describes, “We help former inmates navigate difficult systems to get them ready for work and companies trust our expertise to find them the perfect candidate.”
The program has maintained a 70 percent overall retention rate for the past 4 years, and they currently have more job openings than people to place.
While the statistics speak volumes, the culture surrounding Operation New Hope is the true testament to its effectiveness.
“Everyone who works here wants to help. We get to see people change their lives every day,” Brittany said. The atmosphere is infectious. Clients and workers alike come to work each day with the same purpose: to change lives. It is a voluntary program, so no clients are forced to attend. This helps ensure that everyone who is enrolled genuinely wants to make a change.
Robert was introduced to Operation New Hope while attending InsideOut Dad, a program aimed at helping inmates become better fathers while incarcerated. For a recovering drug addict, who was ready to start over and build relationships with his daughter and son, this program would become the foundation for Robert’s new life. And it would lead him straight to Operation New Hope upon his release.
“It’s never a bad time to start over,” Robert said. “As a recovering addict, your work is never done. You need positive connections in your life and people who want to help you. And that’s what Operation New Hope gave me.”
Out of prison for a little over 6 months, Robert has successfully completed his training through Operation New Hope and is currently employed at Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q as a line cook. His employers have nothing but positive things to say about his performance, and he boasts that he gets to work an hour early every day. When he’s not on the job or spending time with his family, he’s busy working towards his GED. Once he finalizes that degree, he plans to start taking business classes at FCCJ.
Robert also has a passion for sharing his journey. Being a father in prison made Robert take a special interest in helping young people, and he hopes that he can continue to steer at risk youth away from a life of crime through mentorship. “Experience is the best teacher. I want to tell my story and use what I’ve gained to advocate for young people and to help them become stronger.”