Flip Side


Doing a Flip from Burgers

When you do a good deed, get a receipt, in case heaven is like the IRD.

by Mathew Dearnaley

When Chayse Brown left school in Manurewa a year ago, she had trouble convincing friends she was heading for a career in the information technology industry.  Her parents were among the sceptics, thinking the most they could hope for their daughter would be a secretarial job.  Now the 18-year-old is one of the top students in a pioneering Government-financed course aimed at redressing a lack of Maori and Pacific Island computer technicians.

Leaving school at the end of the 7th form was a scary prospect for Chayse, who says teachers warned her she would be a "bum" for the rest of her life unless she formed a clear idea of what she wanted to do.  "I didn't believe in myself and my family didn't want to know computers," she says.  "James Cook High is a good school but it's in Manurewa and people think students who go there will end up flipping burgers."

But the teachers had faith in her, recommending her for one of 15 places on a diploma of computer course, paid for under Skills New Zealand's Rangatahi Maia scheme at the Carich Training Centre in Manukau.  She has spent the past year exploring the innards of computer hardware as well as advanced software programmes, and hopes to get a start in the industry as a helpdesk technician.

Skills New Zealand has approved a second course for next year, and Carich has already received about 15 applications without advertising.

Tejae Bauckham's parents wanted him to join the Navy, but the Waiuku 17-year-old has accepted a trial job at an Auckland computer systems service company on an hourly starting rate of $17.  "If I had gone into the Navy I would probably be peeling potatoes.  I was going to go in as a cook because that's all I knew I could do."

Carich regional manager Denise Babich acknowledges the job offer would be the envy of youngsters working in the fast-food industry for little more than $6 an hour, but says: "Tejae is very, very good."  She believes Maori and Pacific Islands people have a natural technical aptitude which should be exploited more by the IT industry.

The Carich course's main tutor, Simon Julius, says he has worked in the industry for nine years yet has never encountered a Maori or Pacific Islands computer technician, "which I think is a tragedy."

Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia says the biggest barrier to his people's involvement in the knowledge economy is the fact that most are the children or grandchildren of manual labourers who have trouble appreciating the benefits of higher education.

At least one Auckland high-tech company is doing its bit to include Maori in the knowledge economy.  Vending Technologies, which has just listed on the Stock Exchange with a fully subscribed $7.5 million share float, has a young Maori computer programmer helping to develop "smart" vending machines able to dispense both hot and cold food and drinks.  It has also given a new lease of life to 53-year-old Teihi Tihi, a mechanical and electrical fitter who was laid off when an Otahuhu fertiliser works closed down and then struggled for 15 years on the dole interspersed with brief casual work.

Mr Tihi, who strips down imported second-hand machines before they are rewired for export to Australia, says he has become a changed man since the company hired him a year ago.  And he has cheered up his wife by using some of his wages to spice up their modest home and garden.

Source: Weekend Herald 11-12 November 2000 www.nzherald.co.nz/features mathew_dearnaley@herald.co.nz; Chayse's photo by David White, Teihi's photo by Peter Meecham

Source: Funny Times May 2001

Locked In, Then Locked Out?

Prison Nation Turns Its Back on Released Convicts

by Walter Shapiro

New York - We've seen this scene in countless movies: A just-released inmate stands at the gates of a fortress-like prison clutching a bus ticket, two $20 bills and a slip of paper with the name of his parole officer.  His hunched shoulders and his puzzled gaze suggest that it will take more than a hot shower to wash away the memories of captivity.  He is nominally free, but we know that his prospects are bleak and his re-entry to life on the outside will be harsh.

Now for the reality.  This year, according to estimates by the Federal Bureau of Justice statistics, more than 600,000 Americans will be released from state and federal prisons.  Overwhelmingly male, disproportionately black and Hispanic, mostly ill-educated, this army of former inmates represents a searing and neglected social problem.  The nation's fragile victory in the war against crime depends on the choices that these former prisoners will make during their first months on the streets.

"They have two options the way I see it," Raul Russi says.  "Either they work or they go back to jail."  Russi, 55, just finished a five-year stint as Mayor Rudy Giuliani's probation commissioner and served six years as chairman of New York state's parole board under former governor Mario Cuomo.  He knows all too well the stakes involved.  "Once someone is punished, we have to figure out a way for the punishment to end and for them to get on with their lives," he says.  "Otherwise they'll return to the only behaviour they've ever known."

After 30 years in law enforcement, beginning with his days as the first Puerto Rican cop on the Buffalo police force, Russi has learned the limits of incarceration.  As a senior vice president with America Works, a for-profit job-placement service that helps welfare mothers obtain full-time employment, Russi's new mission is to find jobs for former inmates.

Other groups around the country, mostly non-profit social-service agencies, are also on the front lines of the efforts to keep former prisoners on the right side of the law.  But like the new initiative by America Works, which was recently awarded a grant by New York City to help recently freed inmates find jobs, these programmess are dwarfed by the magnitude of the task.  It is strange that a nation that can find the funds to build new prisons is so stinting when it comes to resources for those who have served their time.

In a sense, the employment problems of former inmates are the flip side of the welfare-reform struggle.  This time it is the men, just out of prison, who need far-reaching help in entering the job market.  As Peter Cove, the founder of America Works, puts it, "The 1990s were about rescuing women from the welfare system.  This decade is about redirecting the men from the criminal-justice system."

Just like many Americans in the 1950s willfully averted their eyes from the realities of segregation, now we are reluctant to face the social consequences of 2 million men and women behind bars.  Sure, we revel in the dramatic reduction in the crime rate.  But with most prisons in rural areas, we have the luxury of pretending that these inmates exist in some alternative universe that has no connection with our daily lives.

Responding to the get-tough political attitudes of the past two decades, prisons across the nation have abandoned any pretense that rehabilitation plays a role in punishment.  Prison libraries, remedial education and job training have been jettisoned as symbols of the mushy-headed liberalism of the past.  Discussing his own experience with New York state prisons, Russi says, "Rehabilitation has lost.  If they're doing it, they're not talking about it."

In a new book, Going up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation, Joseph T Hallinan vividly describes what passes as rehabilitation at Alabama's Limestone Correctional Center.  Hallinan, a Wall Street Journal reporter, writes that the prisoners "grab the yellow-handled sledgehammers, draw them up high, and begin pounding the boulders of limestone.  ...This is their job all day long, five days a week, smashing boulders into rocks."  The image could have been lifted from the 1932 Paul Muni film classic, I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang.

Prison reform is a cause that lacks a political constituency.  The widespread fear of crime is too recent a memory and the victims of harsh mandatory sentencing laws are too invisible to prompt a national crusade for the liberalisation of prison policies.  But it should be a different issue once someone has paid his debt to society.  For if we want to fight crime, there is no better method than to find honest and fulfilling work for former inmates.

Welfare reform has taught us that work works.  Now this same principle must be extended to former residents of the ultimate in public housing.

As Russi puts it, "An individual who's working gains self-esteem and respect for himself and his family."  It isn't compassion so much as self-interest that argues for a helping hand for the 600,000 former prisoners who are headed our way each year.

E-mail Walter Shapiro at wshapiro@usatoday.com

Source: USA Today Wednesday 30 May 2001

See also:

bulletLocked in for Safety: Prisons and Legal - for lots more on the subject of prisoners.

Source: Financial Post (Toronto) Friday 23 February 2001

This reminds me a little of Johnny Depp's character in the movie Blow.  I wonder if the person who placed this ad ever found a decent job.  He says he's well-educated, but I suspect he means self-educated or he'd likely have stated that he had a degree.

I've returned to university myself (after a 30-year break).  I'm making all A's but I'm not really learning as much as I had hoped - I'm learning a few things I didn't know but those things aren't as useful in the business world as they should be.  Universities (at least the ones I can afford) seem a bit "cocooned" from the real world.  Too many of the classes I've had follow a rigid syllabus when allowing some degree of deviation based on the makeup (needs and experience) of the class would allow more ground to be covered.  I've learned more useful things from experience than I'm learning in class - but a university degree will carry more weight on a resume.  There are times when it definitely shouldn't.

I suppose a potential employer won't always know who has initiative, stamina and desire.  Judging by who stuck it out long enough to earn a degree is safer.  But sometimes those are the people who were too timid or having too much fun in the structured world the school provides to take chances in life.  We don't learn from the things we do right nearly as much as we learn from what goes wrong - if we survive...

I think this guy sound like he deserves a chance and I hope someone gave him it to him.  If someone reading this has a similar story, I hope you'll write and tell me about it.


Don't Lose Perspective!

Source: darkroastedblend.com

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