By ANNA SPIVAK
After a brisk walk with his girlfriend on a late night in January, John Molina, 20 years old at the time, returned to his apartment in East New York to find a swarm of police officers outside, guns drawn.
A rekindled friendship with an old classmate-turned-drug addict in 2005 had led Molina to sell drugs when he was without a full-time job.
Charged with drug possession after a police raid uncovered 58 grams of cocaine inside his home, Molina was sentenced to one year in prison and two years parole.
“I ended up doing 11 months,” said Molina.
He then became one of the 58,607 people under parole supervision in New York State when released late in 2005 – a group as likely as not to be re-arrested.
“The re-arrest rate is 50 percent in New York State and about 42 percent in New York City,” said Andrew J. Costello, formerly a deputy inspector in the New York Police Department and now an adjunct professor of political science at Brooklyn College. “Parole, it has issues.”
In 2005, Molina was shuffled between Rikers Island and two other correctional facilities. He served the bulk of his time, January to October, at Rikers with the remaining months split between two upstate facilities, Ulster Correctional Facility in Napanoch, and Oneida Correctional Facility in Rome. He had a month cut from his sentence for good behavior.
The process of authorities “cutting your hair and stripping you naked” was what Molina said he hated most about switching prisons. But, after his release in December 2005, he felt the strict guidelines of parole and the state and city authorities’ apathetic attitude toward help for discharged prisoners was the outside equivalent.
Molina has held several jobs since his Christmas release nine years ago. None of them was obtained, he says, with help from his parole officers or post-release counselors.
“If working or looking for work interferes with your parole, they can call it a violation and send you back to jail,” Molina said.
The conditions of his parole included reporting once a month to an officer in downtown Brooklyn, submitting to urine and drug tests during those visits, a strict 9 p.m. curfew, and a six-month drug program with mandatory psychiatric evaluations.
“Parole officers may require you to go to services. Substance and maintenance abuse and psychological services,” Costello said. In addition, he said the parolee must always “obey the law, not see other felons, and adhere to their curfew.”
Costello said that programs for helping parolees are scarce.
“The programs are limited,” he said. “They are mostly private or independent contractors.”
The urine and drug tests, Molina said, were particularly strict. Parole officers “would be present with you in the bathroom at all times and there is a mirror on the ceiling that they use to look at you,” he said.
The only thing Molina says the officers help with is “completing the program that you’re mandated to.” In the hunt for a job, the parolee himself must do all the legwork.
During his first year of parole, Molina was able to find separate programs that provide help and grants to ex-offenders and low-income individuals.
Through Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities, a state program that provides adult career and additional education services, Molina was able to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
The program set him up with a sufficient way to receive loans and the means to attend driving school. Molina passed his driver’s test and is satisfied that he can drive buses anywhere in New York.
Molina also held a position as a front desk clerk at Sunrise Family Health Center, a medical office in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Office manager Victoria Tron regarded Molina as a dependable employee.
“He worked for me for like, four years,” Tron said. “He worked very hard and was responsible.”
There are other groups and non-profit organizations that specialize in helping past prisoners while also assisting businesses in hiring qualified employees.
The Brooklyn Public Library offers a list of these programs and free services for ex-offenders. Some listed are: America Works, Inc., Brooklyn Workforce Innovations, The Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services, The Legal Action Center, STRIVE, and others.
Taking it one step further, Defy Ventures, a Manhattan-based non-profit organization, strives to turn formerly incarcerated individuals into business leaders/entrepreneurs. According to its website, Defy offers services that include “intensive personal and leadership development, competition-based entrepreneurship training, executive mentoring, financial investment, and business incubation.”
Defy Ventures has helped participants start over 40 businesses, including an installation and renovation company, a personal concierge service, an eco-friendly cleaning company and a mobile barbershop, according to defyventures.org.
According to Costello, the need for released persons in the workforce has gone down. He spoke about New York’s years as an industrial town and the state’s past willingness to employ parolees.
Work for parolees “was usually limited to industrial jobs,” Costello said. “It worked in a system when we had 9-5 factory jobs.”
With the 49, 600 people under parole supervision as of 2010, according to the New York State Parole Handbook, and limited factory or industrial jobs at hand, the success rate for those who have left prison is low.
“Looking for work with a felony on your record is one of the hardest things to do,” said Molina on how having a criminal background has affected him. “We are subject to be judged. We can have the most exciting resume and we would be overlooked.”
Now, 29, and a free man for almost 10 years, Molina has moved to Florida to search for work.
Photo: John Molina.