Many of the employers who showed up at Alexandria City Jail’s biannual job fair last Thursday were familiar faces, at least to the event’s organizers. Some had even been inmates at one time. But it was the first time the Army and the Marines had been in attendance.
"I think it’s a good idea for some of these young people in [jail] on certain lesser charges. They need some turnaround," said Juanita DeShazior, who invited the military to the event. DeShazior is part of Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) of Arlington. She also works in the Alexandria City Jail as a re-entry advisor and organizes the job fair twice a year for inmates who are due to be released within 60 days. She noted that different military branches can take recruits with certain charges on their records.
DeShazior said she could not allow media into this particular fair because she was unable to gain a consensus among the 48 inmates who participated. "It’s their show," she said, noting that the emcee for the two-hour event was also an inmate.
A number of inmates approached the military recruiters after their presentations, she said, "and I got a positive reaction from the recruiters."
Staff Sgt. Sherod Johnson, who represented the Army’s Alexandria recruiting branch at the job fair, said he did not know of another instance in which his office had tried recruiting at a jail, but he said the session was worthwhile. "We got a couple of guys that were interested, and a female, and they came up and asked some questions, and we gave them information," he said. "That’s our job, to get out there in the community and give people chances."
Johnson said the Army can accept recruits convicted of lesser felonies. For example, in the case of a grand larceny charge, it would depend how much was stolen and how long ago the charge was incurred, he said.
"THE MARINE CORPS can’t recruit anyone with a felony," said Sgt. Issam Oaurkoub, who represented the Marines at the event. Like Johnson, he did not know of another occasion when recruiters from his office had visited a jail. "We just went to check it out," he said, noting that some inmates could be serving short sentences for misdemeanor crimes like reckless driving.
However, Oaurkoub said his presentation generated little response among the audience. "Maybe it’ll work for the Army, but I don’t think it’s going to work for us," he said.
DeShazior said she had not anticipated a large number of military recruits to result from the event, but had hoped that a few might take the chance to change their setting. "A lot of the problem is that they get out, they go back to their neighborhood and they get into trouble," she said, adding that she hoped the military recruiters could ultimately "just save a few from becoming career criminals."
Marleen Venter of the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office, which partners with OAR to stage the job fair, said she had not heard of another jail in the area that held job fairs. "It’s kind of a transition service for inmates," she said.
As a result of the job fair, said DeShazior, "I’ve had some people who got out one day and got a job the next day. If they really want to get a job, they can get a job."
She noted that all of the individual entrepreneurs at the event are onetime convicts, which makes them popular with the inmates. "They let [the inmates] know they can succeed," she said. "We’re trying to cut down on recidivism as much as possible. It’s one of the hardest tasks we have right now." Part of the effort, she said, is giving inmates "a new vision" by connecting them with employers and showing them ex-convicts who have succeeded.
A few inmates from Alexandria Jail have been released and then returned as recruiters for their new employers, said Venter.