Program gives ex-offenders another chance

Program gives ex-offenders another chance

DANVILLE — When Sara Marzbannia moved back to Danville eight months ago, she struggled to find work.

The problem wasn't the tough job market. She had managed two fast-food restaurant franchises in Memphis, where she had lived for the the previous 1-1/2 years, and those restaurants in Danville were hiring.

The problem was her criminal past. Marzbannia served prison time from November 2009 to July 2010 for manufacturing methamphetamine, and the local businesses told her they didn't hire convicted felons.

"They wouldn't consider me, even though I had excellent references from my previous employers," recalled Marzbannia, who successfully completed a drug rehab program and has been clean for several years.

Marzbannia said she was able to land her current job, assistant manager of Arby's on South Gilbert Street in Danville, thanks to a program that gave her and other ex-offenders a second chance.

On Saturday, she and 14 others will graduate from the Second Chance Program at a cap-and-gown ceremony at the David S. Palmer Arena.

The Second Chance Program at New Directions Treatment Center, at 153 N. Vermilion St., Danville, was established last year. The intensive 10-week program aims to restore ex-offenders' dignity and self-esteem and provide them with the skills and a support system that will lead to gainful employment.

"The goal is to help them become self-sufficient," Director Janice Coleman said. "We want them to go from the welfare lines to the tax rolls and be an asset to their community."

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 650,000 ex-offenders are released into society every year, and about two-thirds are arrested again within three years of their release.

While the Second Chance Act of 2008 authorizes federal grant funding to government agencies and non-profit organizations for programs designed to improve their re-entry into communities and reduce recidivism, New Directions's program hasn't been able to tap into it yet, Coleman said.

The non-profit organization launched its program with a $5,000 donation from ThyssenKrupp Crankshaft Co. in Danville and a small amount of other donations.

Modeled after successful evidence-based programs in Memphis, San Francisco and West Virginia, the program is free and open to all ex-offenders.

During the 1-1/2-hour sessions held on Thursday evenings, Coleman teaches participants how to manage their anger and other emotions, resolve conflicts in appropriate ways, communicate with others and set goals. She also teaches participants how to write a resume and cover letter, and dress and prepare for a job interview.

"It's different when you have a criminal background," Coleman said, adding ex-offenders must be able to explain why they have little or no employment history or gaps in their history.

Program director Darrius Tyler also pointed out that most job forms ask applicants to check a box if they have been convicted of a felony.

"If employers see the box is checked, they won't read any further," he said.

Coleman also helps participants write a letter of explanation, in which ex-offenders have a chance to explain what they did and take responsibility for their actions. The letter also includes steps they have taken to improve their lives and how they will be an asset to their employer.

In addition, Coleman provides participants with information on community resources for drug-and-alcohol treatment, health and mental health services, housing and transportation and education and training.

"I always encourage them to go back to school, get more training, do volunteer work, anything that will help them improve their skills and be more valuable to an employer," Coleman said.

Once participants land jobs, she makes sure they're showing up and have the support and resources they need, such as transportation, to keep it.

She and Melvia Russell, New Directions' executive director, meet with potential employers to explain the program and the benefits of hiring participants. They also ask for donations to help keep the program going.

"It's a challenge," Coleman said. "Eighty percent of businesses say, 'We don't hire criminals.'"

"Others will say, 'We're an equal opportunity employer,' but then we never hear back from them," Tyler added.

But with the right fit, "they make very good employees," Coleman said, citing a Department of Justice report that says that 92 percent of felons who land a job will stay with it for at least five years. "They're so happy to have a job, they will work hard to keep it."

She also explains the financial benefits. Under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit program, employers can qualify for a federal tax credit of up to 40 percent of income taxes on the first $6,000 of wages paid to each ex-offender hired.

And under the Federal Bonding Program, employers can receive a minimum of $5,000 in Fidelity Bond insurance for those high-risk employees — at no charge to them — and protect themselves from theft, damage to equipment, etc.

Coleman said she and Tyler won't recommend participants who will misrepresent the program.

"And if we see they need more time, we'll recommend that they work on their anger management or whatever is hindering them from growing before we send them out there," Tyler said.

"There are some people who are looking for a quick fix," he continued. "This program is long-term. It's for people who really want to better themselves and want to provide for themselves and their families. They're taking the initiative and doing the work."

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illini_trucker wrote on November 16, 2012 at 9:11 am

Consider yourselves blessed! I have NO felony convictions! My misdemeanors equate to 3 moving violations in the past FIFTEEN years! Given that I drove a truck for 8 of those fifteen years, I consider my record pretty good! I have my son full time now, so of course I can't go back to driving a truck.. Not unless anyone knows of a 9-5 trucking job!! Lolz! I'm actually expecting people to tear up my comment piece by piece rather than take it as it wholly is..

I've submitted 27 applications in the past 4 months. I have received ZERO callbacks for even an interview! I was just bored checking the news filling out my SNAP (food stamp) redetermination form when I saw this article. I'm lying a little bit (i actually called them back) I did get a job; I start in a few days. However it's seasonal and the shifts are not expected to be more than 5 hours at most, 30 hours a week tops, and the big kicker... It's about 50 miles round trip worth of gas.

But it's a job I guess! One more "2 month long employer" to add to the stack! Lolz!

Utowner wrote on November 16, 2012 at 10:11 am

I have a about we all save ourselves a whole bunch of money and frustration and just legalize drugs and quit ruining lives?  I'm very happy for Ms. Marzbannia, but think of how her quality of life, and arguabely, those around her's quality of life, would have been improved if we had just treated her addiction and moved on?  Beyond improved quality of life think about the SAVINGS from not having to house her in a correctional facility for a year plus the costs associated with prosecuting her.  Then, after that huge drain on our coffers is complete we lose income in the form of taxes that Ms. Marzbannia could have been paying if she was purchasing goods and working in a job that was available to her with a higher wage rate and paying income taxes because she did not have a felony record.

The only people who win with our prohibition approach to recreational drugs are the legal professionals, law enforcement personnel, and private correctional center coporations.  I am amazed at the amount of money we waste and number of lives ruined as we enforce this outdated social policy.  Legalize, tax, regulate, and treat!  The four steps for success in ending our losing war on drugs.


illini_trucker wrote on November 16, 2012 at 10:11 am


there is too much MORE "political money" to be made by the US and Mexican Government's to be made by keeping it NOT legal! The drug killings? That's population control. The over stacked prisons?? I don't believe for one second it costs even 30% as much as politicians want you to believe; that's just "pocketed cash." Any government admission that they LOST a war??? Hahahahahaha!!! That's hilarious!!

you ever heard that saying?? If the opposite of PRO is CON, then the opposite of PROgress is:___________.

long and short, 2 things: 1) the gov't. ain't legalizing anything and 2) this comment will probably be "suggest removed" and gone from this article by 1pm today (11/16/2012) as is 80% of my comments for being ugly yet truthful.....


CULater wrote on November 16, 2012 at 10:11 am

Meth is not a recreational drug it is dangerous and disgusting. Look what it does to people inside and out. Not only does it make its users dangerous but it is created from all of these chemicals. I am all for legalizing certain recreational drugs but this is Meth we are talking about. It is unnatural. We definitely need to keep people out of jail but I'm sorry this woman was convicted of manufacturing meth, she deserved to go to jail and I'm happy she was able to overcome (hopefully) that part of her life and become an upstanding citizen. Kudos.

Utowner wrote on November 16, 2012 at 11:11 am


We have a terminology problem here...meth is a recreational drug because it has no real positive pharmacological effects (it can't cure/treat ailments).  It is a disgusting drug; I agree. I think most drugs are disgusting and I have no interest in participating in the lifestyle that surrounds them.  However, I feel that one's decision to poison their body is a decision that you as a human being have the right to make.  People will say 'use leads to theft, DUI, and other crimes'.  I have no research to establish this correlation, but I will agree, use/addiction does lead to other crimes in certain individuals.  So, when these individuals commit violent crimes or property crimes we prosecute them for those crimes and we treat their addiction.  Under this system we spend less time and resources chasing chemicals and conducting street-level raids with the benefit of hopefully reducing the violent crime associated with the current system that allows the black market to thrive. 

In direct response to your comment, why did she deserve to go to jail?  For her addiction?  What kind of moral code does that represent?  She will never be able to overcome all of the problems a felony level conviction present.

pangloss wrote on November 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Statistically, alcohol is more dangerous than meth is.  It results in more deaths. 


Look what it does to people inside and out.  It makes its users dangerous, especially when driving vehicles.  It causes a number of health problems when abused.  I am all for legalizing certain drugs, but alcohol needs to go....



randyandjoy1 wrote on November 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm

%wise to # of users...come might want to correct what you stated

rsp wrote on November 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Some of you clearly have never been around a meth addict or know about the damage to a house or motel room from a meth lab. After a lab has been in a house of motel room it is unsafe for habitation. Yet these places are still on the market. Labs can explode when the people are the least bit careless. In order to keep from getting caught there is a new method using a bottle that is being done in a moving car. So would you willingly put your kids in a chemical playground? Because they have found kids in these cars and in the motel rooms with the labs. 

Meth changes people.

Utowner wrote on November 16, 2012 at 4:11 pm


Or, I have met meth addicts b/c I live in Central Illinois and I don’t' think criminalizing addiction is the way to cure a problem.  If it was LEGAL then there would be no real motivation for people to ILLEGALLY set up clandestine labs in the spaces you mentioned.   Let's think outside of the box of 'this is good, this is bad'.  

rsp wrote on November 16, 2012 at 7:11 pm

So what, legal labs? Sell meth over the counter? Maybe we could have corner bars where people could get high. The problem with addiction is that addicts don't change until it becomes too painful not to change. Meanwhile there's everyone else. 

randyandjoy1 wrote on November 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm

then don't do the crime...duh?...problem solved....sometimes I think people do not understand, "this isn't rocket science."


Utowner wrote on November 16, 2012 at 4:11 pm

No, it isn't rocket science; it is actually a blend of social science and life sciences.  Certain individuals have addiction issues.  They can be biological or environmental.  What may be addictive to you, may not be a problem to me.  That is the life science element of this debate.  The social science portion focuses mostly in the disciplines of Sociology and Economics.  Should we be criminalizing addiction is the question that should be addressed by Sociologists.  The question of how we can eliminate the black market that leads to violence belongs to the Economists.  Finally, some of our good Economics folks with backgrounds in public policy and finance should be addressing whether it is prudent to spend public funds to pursue, prosecute, imprison, and then rehabilitate people with addictions.

rsp wrote on November 16, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Maybe you should spend some time researching addiction. Call Prairie Center. Learn what it takes to get someone off meth. After stopping it can take a year before their brain chemistry changes back to the way it was, if at all. 

illini_trucker wrote on November 16, 2012 at 5:11 pm

1) wow! My previous post hasn't been removed after 8 hours on a Friday night!! 

2) Just wishing sometimes I had just 1/2 a chance at a decent job as minorities and criminals...


and a final ps.... Congrats to the featured felon for getting a job!! 

rsp wrote on November 16, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Maybe they are picking up on the negative attitude. Be positive. Volunteer. Ask for help with your applications. That's one of the things these programs provide, the polish. Also have someone call your references for you to find out what they are saying about you. It may not be what you think. And as a side note, felons have a really hard time getting a job. That's why there are these programs. And don't knock the temp jobs. Most of the good places are only hiring through them these days. It saves them money if they don't like someone. And if they are impressed they hire the people outright. 

woopitydo wrote on November 16, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Very sorry for you luck Trucker but I really cant help but beat the dead horse with you. You complain about money and jobs constantly but you also are willing to drive to Indiana to get cigarettes. You have got to get over this "whoa is me" attitude. I am very sympathetic of your situation. I am a single parent too but that is not a handicap. Check out, there may be something on there for you and if not this week maybe next week. Fedex and Ups are always at Parkland recruiting and the postal service has a sign up for employment as well. With your driving back ground you would have a great chance. Good luck. 

Local Yocal wrote on November 20, 2012 at 8:11 am
Profile Picture

Fortunately, there are some voices crying in the wilderness....

Utowner wrote on November 20, 2012 at 9:11 am

Unfortunately, the voices are drowned out by the generation the Reagan's ruined with their prohibitionist 'Just Say No' campaign.  Complete nonsense.  If we want to be the land of the free and be fiscally responsible with our dwindling resources; we must re-examine our failed policy on recreational drugs.  It is amazing that no matter how many former and current 'top cops', addiction specialists, and policy wonks scream about the injustice and financial burden this 'war' has cost us, no one seems to listen to the voice of experience and reason.

Sid Saltfork wrote on November 20, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Things are slowly changing.  Washington's, and Colorado's recent law changes showed change.  Whether the federal government chooses to allow states the right to pass progressive recreational drug legislation, or not, will be the test for more states following Colorado's example.  Will marijuana be treated as tobacco with taxes, regulation, and public disdain toward it's users; or will the public embrace it as a great revenue source for states with less disdain toward the users?