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Notes from the inside: Working toward the future while behind bars


Notes from the Inside
Produced in prison: Inside Oakdale Prison, the Hubbub Job Club successfully opened a produce stand. — illustration by Josh Carroll

Notes from the Inside features original writing by inmates serving time in Iowa prisons. The authors of this article are contributors to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center’s inmate-edited newsletter, The Kite. Finding work after prison can be a huge challenge, and at Oakdale Prison, inmates are working to prepare for life outside through the Hubbub Job Club.

By Jon S. and Josh L.

One of the most difficult challenges after being released from prison is the acquisition and maintenance of a quality source of income. Preparation for life after prison is important, and this was the motivation for the inmates at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (IMCC) in Coralville to start a job club.

The Hubbub Job Club (HJC) began in 2010 following a visit from University of Iowa professor Rick Funderburg, who gave a talk about finding jobs after incarceration. From this visit, we decided to form the HJC to help us hone our application, resume and interviewing skills. Dr. Funderburg agreed to become the job club sponsor, and with the help of other outside volunteers, we began holding meetings twice a week—one business meeting and one workshop meeting.

At the business meetings, the board members and outside volunteers brainstormed activities and topics for the workshop meetings. This is also where our more ambitious plans were bounced around, such as an “outside” Hubbub Job Club, where any ex-offenders could come together and support each other in the difficult task of finding work. Participants also started hubbubjobclub.webs.com so that men who found employment could (if their employers were up for it) post a message saying that an employer would hire ex-offenders. We also discussed turning the HJC into a nonprofit organization. But, the main focus was always helping with job hunting skills.

The workshops lasted 60-90 minutes and eventually evolved into a 16-week curriculum that culminated in simulated interviews with business owners from the local community. After completing the course, the men who participated would have the opportunity to volunteer their knowledge with the next group of participants.

After a few years, the outside volunteers found other positions which lessened the time they could devote to the HJC, which led to their reluctant departure from our club. And with that, the HJC was fully run by the board members—all incarcerated men who had gone through the course. Having no outside volunteers led to fewer resources and materials, and after running the same course for three years, it seemed the board had nothing new to offer those who wanted to get involved.

In 2012, however, the board got together to discuss ways to draw in new members and revive the HJC. One big idea was to start the HJC Greenmarket, which led members to write up a business plan and present it to the prison administration.

Prior to the Greenmarket, there were almost no fresh vegetables or fruits available, apart from occasionally appearing in lunches or dinners. The idea to start a business selling fresh fruit and vegetables was approved, and today the Greenmarket still offers the men at IMCC a healthy snack alternative to the junk food sold at our canteens. The profit from the business venture is used to purchase materials, like instructional videos, to start new workshops that focus on developing entrepreneurial skills.

Extra funds from the Greenmarket go to what the HJC calls Pay-It-Forward events, which include monthly Fun Runs where we offer free fruit and healthy snacks to people who participate in various activities like walking, running or rolling (if wheel-chair bound).

The HJC has run into a few issues with retaining members due to stagnation in the prison population and the materials available. But, with help from prison staff, we have recently been able to purchase new course items and have two DVD workshops planned—Optimizing Brain Fitness and The Entrepreneur’s Toolkit. Membership is up, and we are optimistic, even though we have no outside volunteers presently. Developing useful tools to enter back into the community successfully upon release remains our top focus.

Jon S. and Josh L. collaborated on this article and are long time members of the Hubbub Job Club. If you are interested in volunteering with the HJC contact mhcervan@hotmail.com.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 178


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