Citizens with criminal records fill gym for jobs

DALLAS – Thousands of ex-convicts crammed into a sweltering gymnasium Wednesday for a job fair, interviewing with stores, temporary agencies, restaurants and any other business willing to overlook a felony record.

“I’ll sweep, clean, anything,” said 24-year-old Ameka Woodard, one of an estimated 5,000 people at the event. “They’re just not accepting me because of my background. Everybody has personal issues and problems.”

People crowded tables spread around the gym at the event co-sponsored by a radio station, Christian ministries and advocacy groups for former prison inmates.

“From the moment I sat down at 8:30 this morning, I got swamped with people. There were 300 or 400 people around my table, I couldn’t get them in line,” said Joyce Ann Brown, who helped organize the event.

Brown, released from prison in 1989 after a state appeals court overturned her conviction in a deadly armed robbery, said she will only consider the event a success if at least 75 percent of those who showed up are hired.

“I’ve never seen this many people at a job fair,” said Dusty Crews, a human resources worker with the Waffle House who ran out of blank applications before the fair ended. She left carrying a bag stuffed full of completed forms.

From his seat in the bleachers overlooking the gym floor, Elton Luckey was wide-eyed at the mass of people before him. He glanced at his list of potential employers and looked again at the hundreds of people lining up.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Luckey, 55. “I never imagined anything like this.”

Luckey was on his 23rd day of freedom after 10 years in the Allred state prison unit near Wichita Falls. He said he had been in the restaurant business before being incarcerated.

“I signed my name on a few applications. They should have had this down at the convention center or something, there’s so many people looking for jobs,” he said. “I can see now that it’s really hard with the economy the way it is.”

Clarence Patrick, 42, recently freed after serving a county jail sentence on a probation violation, scribbled information from a table manned by representatives of a temporary agency. He said he was keeping a positive attitude about finding work.

“I think they need to have more of these,” he said. “The number of people they’ve got here today is enormous.”

The only employers not being besieged with inquiries were two Army recruiters who stood just inside the entrance to the fair.

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