Wilbert Jarrett has a lot to be grateful for - a wife and four children who love him, and for the past nearly five years a job with the Chester Housing Authority. Life didn't seem quite as rosy several years ago when the Chester High grad was convicted for drug possession and sent to prison.
But while living in a halfway house after his release, he applied for an assistant mechanic position and was hired at CHA."A guy makes a mistake; that doesn't mean we write him off," said CHA Executive Director Steven Fischer. People hear the word 'incarceration' and they get scared. It is not fair that you make one mistake and your life is over. We have to understand that."Jarrett, who served eight years in the Navy, said alcohol was his downfall. But he said his family's reaction ultimately motivated him to change his ways."I realized I was hurting my wife and kids," Jarrett said. "It was terrible seeing the hurt in their faces. I just decided one day to stop. I've been drug and alcohol-free for six years. I know now what it takes."Jarrett has daily interaction with CHA residents, who he says, are very supportive."Residents are proud of me. I talk openly about my experience and they understand. I don't like being around negative people and I don't associate with people who have a destructive attitude."Jarrett credits his success to programs that help inmates re-start their lives, noting that most inmates are either working or taking educational courses while serving time. Once released, he was awarded a $1,500 grant from the PA Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) to buy tools, which he uses in his job. But it falls to employers to perhaps step out of their comfort zone and hire an ex-offender." To me, having a job is an even more important first step back than a home, and I say that as the guy who runs the housing authority," said Fischer. "Once you have the income, the home will follow. It makes so much sense to fund jobs and counseling for men and women coming out of prison. And in an organization like ours, that has more than one ex-inmate, there is an opportunity for mentoring."Jarrett is one of two ex-offenders now working at CHA. Fischer, who concedes that not every ex-inmate he has hired has worked out, says to date he has been unable to access funds available at the county level earmarked to support this kind of program. In addition, he says private companies should consider their own programs."I can't guarantee every former inmate will turn into a success story like Wilbert but investment in this type of human capital is right for Chester. "Wilbert Jarrett will mark five years on the job at CHA in April.