Ironbound Farm Committed to Second Chances

One group of citizens often goes completely unnoticed, left to struggle with finding long-term careers, forced to work odd jobs, unable to make a livable wage: the formerly incarcerated suffer tremendously with unemployment. In 2008, the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people was over 27%, higher than the peak unemployment rate of the Great Depression, which was 25%¹. This raises the question: why is it so hard for these returning citizens to find jobs? 

There are many restrictions that inhibit formerly incarcerated employees from securing employment. Careers involving firearms, such as working at a firearms store, as a security guard, or in a government job that requires a gun, are often off-limits. Banks or other careers that include money are also restricted. Nursing homes or group homes, places with vulnerable adults, are also banned. Sometimes, it may not be the job itself at question, but the location. For example, certain people cannot work near or in a school². Although these rules have been established for the safety of citizens and employees, it makes it increasingly difficult for formerly incarcerated people to find jobs.

There’s a lot of building that’s going up in Newark right now. Audible is there, and Prudential, and there’s this whole concept of Newark revitalization, that’s not on behalf of the people of Newark.”

For Charles Rosen, founder of Ironbound Farm, he knew he had to collaborate with the people of Newark, creating a business that could offer opportunities to the formerly incarcerated population. 

“There’s a lot of building that’s going up in Newark right now,” said Rosen in an interview for The Argosy. “Audible is there, and Prudential, and there’s this whole concept of Newark revitalization, that’s not on behalf of the people of Newark.”

According to Rosen, in Newark less than 8% of the jobs are held by Newark residents.

“That means there’s a lot of people like me, coming from Montclair every day, going to Newark, making a lot of money, developing big buildings, but not really in partnership with the people of Newark…that’s when I knew my work had to be focused on working with what we call ‘returning citizens.'”

Rosen created Ironbound, a hard cider company and farm, to help Newark’s returning citizens earn livable wages in an effort to break the prison cycle. This cycle goes as follows: a person goes to jail, serves time, gets released, realizes no company can or will hire an “ex-con,” resorts back to crime, then ends up back in jail. Although there are companies that legally cannot hire certain returning citizens, many companies refuse simply because of the stigma.

Rosen shed light on the stigma that surrounds both formerly incarcerated employees and their employers.

Absolutely there’s a stigma. They’re thought of as criminals, and in our society we assume that they’re looking for a fast way out, they’re looking to make a quick buck, they don’t care, they’re lazy, they’re gonna live off the system, all of those stigmas are deeply held beliefs.”

“Absolutely there’s a stigma,” he stated. “They’re thought of as criminals, and in our society we assume that they’re looking for a fast way out, they’re looking to make a quick buck, they don’t care, they’re lazy, they’re gonna live off the system, all of those stigmas are deeply held beliefs.”

Rosen believes that everybody wants to be a second chance employer, but the reality is that it takes a significant amount of time and energy to do it.

“If you spend, you know, for some of my guys, decades in prison around drugs, around people that are beating you, around being treated less than human, you don’t just pop out of that.” 

Another hardship faced by returning citizens is that society is different than when they went to prison. Society and technology advances at such a rapid pace, and as formerly incarcerated citizens are trying to succeed in new jobs, they are also trying to function in an entirely new society. 

These men and women now are my closest friends, they support me, we work together, we respect each other; so I think the biggest piece of advice is we all need to spend a little more time thinking about the other person.”

Rosen uses his platform to help returning citizens acclimate to our new and modern society. Though Jewish, Rosen’s favorite person right now is Pope Francis because “all he talks about is service of the other.” He applies this ideology to his business. Although financially difficult at times, he acknowledges that if he does not help these people in need, there is no guarantee that someone else will. His advice to anyone thinking of starting a company that hires formerly incarcerated people is to give them support. 

“These men and women now are my closest friends, they support me, we work together, we respect each other; so I think the biggest piece of advice is we all need to spend a little more time thinking about the other person.”

Rosen explained that businesses need clear goals and to decide what their definition of success is.

“What I mean by that is you can start a company where your goal is to make a lot of money, and I have lived in that world a lot. So when I was a movie producer, when I owned my own ad agency, those are businesses about making money, and making money is primarily about me and my family.”

“I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, people need to make money, but I think the most important thing is that a business should understand that it has a responsibility to the community in which that business exists.”

I think the most important thing is that a business should understand that it has a responsibility to the community in which that business exists.”

Rosen’s Ironbound company proves that everyone deserves a second chance and that there are employers willing to go out of their way to create those second chances. Ace Hardware, Home Depot, Applebee’s, FedEx, Lyft, and Shell Oil are just some of hundreds of other companies that also hire formerly incarcerated citizens. 

 

Sources:
¹Couloute, Lucius, and Daniel Kopf. “Out of Prison & Out of Work: Unemployment among Formerly Incarcerated People.” Prison Policy Initiative, July 2018, www.prisonpolicy.org.
²“Work Restrictions.” CareerOneStop, 17 Sept. 2019, www.careeronestop.org.
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