He went from jail to owning a business. Now he has joined a group helping other ‘returnees’

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DANBURY – Michael Wright got the idea for a cleaning business from a peer at the Cheshire Correctional Institution.

The others at the facility were always talking about what they would do if they got out of jail or when they got out of jail. Wright generally scoffed at their ideas. But a cleaning business felt like something he could do.

“It made perfect sense,” said Wright, who served between the ages of around 22 and 34 for first-degree assault.

He said he used to walk around Danbury with a “black eye”, but now his company Wright Way Cleaning has more than 20 accounts cleaning buildings in the city.

“This town, Danbury… is very forgiving,” said Wright, now 46. “If you have the skills, they will give you the opportunity.”

Finding employment is one of the many challenges individuals face after release from prison. That’s why the Greater Danbury Reentry Collaborative is hosting a fair this month to bring together businesses, speakers and ‘returning citizens’ looking for jobs.

“I got in trouble and turned it around, and just to be able to do a full 360, to be a part of that means a lot to me,” said Wright, who is part of the table organization. round.

The collaboration formed in 2019, but due to COVID-19, this is the band’s first public event. It comes at a time when local businesses may be easing restrictions on hiring people with criminal backgrounds due to the labor shortages that have emerged from COVID.

“As the labor market has tightened due to COVID, they (companies) are rethinking their policies and thinking that’s another source to consider,” said Michael Taylor, who is involved with the NAACP Collaborative and local.

He works with the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce and others to recruit companies for the Welcome Home Reentry Employment and Resource Fair. The group’s objective is to bring in 20 companies.

The fair will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 11 at the Student Center Ballroom at Western Connecticut State University’s Westside campus.

‘Holistic approach

Phyllis Kinlow, co-chair of the collaboration, became interested in this plea after attending a court hearing where an 18-year-old man was sentenced to 18 years in prison. She soon realized he would be 36 when he came out.

“What will he do?” she wondered.

She earned her master’s degree in nonprofit leadership and partnered with co-chair Ryan Murphy to launch the Danbury Collaborative, which is connected to 10 roundtables in the state known as the CT Reentry Collaborative.

“We started addressing issues like housing, employment, family reunification, and then we had returning citizens who started attending so we could hear their voices,” Kinlow said.

The collaboration is made up of various organizations and people in the region, allowing them to collaborate on legislation and provide services, Murphy said.

“We can discuss the different services that each of our agencies provide and just work collaboratively,” he said.

In addition to the collaborative, Kinlow is launching a nonprofit that focuses on this type of work.

“I wanted to take a holistic view of individuals and help them that way, so if you have trauma, we want to deal with trauma, so you can maintain family relationships, you can maintain housing,” he said. she declared.

One of the speakers at the fair, Keith Smith, Jr., takes a similar approach. His organization “Path to Purpose” focuses on “transformational coaching” for youth at risk of going to prison and those who have returned home.

“You can give a person a job, but if they don’t have the mental capacity to deal with it, you’re going to lose that job and fall victim to the backsliding that so many inner city people are facing.” now,” said Smith, who is from Waterbury.

He has been in and out of prison several times. Going to therapy finally got him on the “right path”, he said. He built his program based on the steps he took.

“You can’t live and thrive when you take things away, so me dealing with mine, I realized I wanted to be the voice of others,” Smith said.

Try to avoid the “revolving door”

Wright was born in Jamaica but calls Danbury home. He moved here as a young child in 1982. His family’s first home was on the property which has since been turned into Danbury Police Station. Growing up, he played sports at Danbury High School and through Pop Warner youth football.

His family was tight-knit and supportive, but “poor” and he turned to criminal activity to make money, he said.

He shot someone in 1997 on Main Street and then fled to Canada, where he was arrested and extradited to the United States in 1998 the same day his son was born. He was allowed to hold his son and given a photo. This photo and a Bible from Canada are the two things he took to jail.

He spent his time at Cheshire Correctional Institute, Greensville Correctional Center in Virginia, and MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institute in Suffield.

“Every morning I woke up, it was like a nightmare,” he said.

He took various courses, including a cooking class, thinking he would pursue this after prison. At one point he considered dentistry. He said he got ideas from conversations with others at the facility. Some had a “master plan” to do better upon release, while others sought the opposite. He was aiming for the first.

“I was there with some of the most unwanted people in the world, but I learned a lot from them,” Wright said.

He was 34 when he was released.

“It was scary,” he said. “I didn’t know how to approach the world.

His cousin came to pick him up at the establishment. Wright said his stomach churned when he learned his cousin’s car was unregistered.

“I just remember not getting upset, but understanding how people could get trapped in the revolving door because of little things like that,” Wright said.

He was afraid to walk around his neighborhood after seeing the victim he had shot while Wright was out with his son. His grandmother co-signed a loan for a car, so he could get around. That kind of support was essential, he said.

Smith said those who return home are often referred to anger management or substance abuse services, but it didn’t meet his needs.

“When you come home, you’re anxious, you’re nervous,” he said. “Part of it is fear or backtracking if you make mistakes because you have these probation and parole parameters in front of you. You’re toeing the line of: How can I live my life normally and avoid going back to jail? All of these things are on your chest every day.

Wright turned down a high-paying job in Manhattan because his probation officer wouldn’t let him take it. Instead, he got a job at Peapod before quitting and starting the cleaning business in 2011.

He was drawn to the idea because he believed the Danbury community would welcome it, and he recognized that cleaning services would always be needed, no matter the economy.

Wright recalled hard night cleaning jobs at pizza restaurants, but the business began to take off after about five years.

Companies have generally been reluctant to hire people with criminal records, making it harder for them to get high-paying jobs, Taylor said.

“They feel that even though they have paid their due to society, they still have the stigma associated with them,” he said. “They also feel that in trying to get back into the mainstream, only low-paying jobs are available to them.”

They are more likely to start their own business because of it, he said.

Smith faced similar challenges. Although he volunteered with youth at Naugatuck Community College, he said he was denied a job because of his criminal record, although his last offense was eight or nine years ago, he said. he declares. This led him to form Path to Purpose from 2020, obtaining an LLC in 2021.

Aim to do better

Tragedy struck Wright’s family a few years ago.

Her daughters, Carter and Madison, were born in June 2016 as monochorionic monoamniotic twins, also known as “mo/mo twins.” This means they share a placenta and an amniotic sac, according to Health Line.

Carter spent most of her life at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in New York City and died at 1 1/2 in January 2018.

“I don’t care if I live or die,” Wright said.

He had resumed his criminal activities to help pay medical bills while she was in hospital and was arrested for drug trafficking in 2017. When he appeared before the judge in 2018, he asked ” mercy,” he said. The judge did, suspending four years of his five-year sentence, Wright said. His friends ran the business until he returned home.

He said it was “embarrassing” to talk about his past and that he had grown since then.

“I want the chance to reflect positively on myself,” Wright said.

Business has picked up thanks to COVID and he is close to paying off his debts, he said. It has six to seven employees and contracts with medical offices and the state.

“I’m proud to be part of it,” he said.

Her daughter Madison is 5 years old and does ballet. He visited his Carter’s grave on Thursday and told her about the good things going on in her life.

Through collaboration and fairness, he wants to support others.

“People need to know that there are opportunities here and where the resources are,” Wright said. “I think that’s where the disconnect is, not knowing where some of the resources are.”

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