When someone struggles with being in and out of the criminal justice system, it can be difficult to break the cycle. For many of these individuals, education becomes a solution to make that happen. Cortez Adkins, 23, enrolled at The Excel Center®, Goodwill’s high school for adults, in 2017 seeking a change in his life.
Individuals who were recently incarcerated face a number of challenges reentering society. Primary among them are limited job opportunities.
When James Wilson was incarcerated in 1996, he was facing 42 years for conspiracy to deal drugs. He knew when he walked into the penitentiary at 37 years old that he needed to make changes in his life if he was going to turn things around. After 17 years, with a squeaky clean record as an inmate, Wilson appealed to the courts for an early release. His request was granted, and he was released – on house arrest.
It’s apparent within minutes of meeting Verdell Evans that she has a burning desire to succeed. Previously, she was fueled by negative influences and destructive choices. She left home at a young age and used and sold drugs. She was incarcerated twice, serving nearly 18 years in prison. Having fulfilled the terms of her sentence and parole, Evans is now blazing a trail that she had never thought possible.
In the last five or so years, Ralph McClury has come full circle at Goodwill. Much has happened along the way, and his road was not easy. Ralph comes from humble beginnings, growing up in Kentucky with 17 siblings, working on the family farm and picking tobacco to make ends meet. He volunteered for the Air Force in 1973 after graduating high school, but chronic kidney issues led to an honorable discharge. Ralph then moved to Indianapolis and found employment as a security guard during the day and bused tables in a downtown restaurant at night. It was at this job that Ralph began a long and unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Though he lost those jobs, he managed to obtain employment as a maintenance man at his apartment complex for six years.
“I got fired six or seven times due to drinking, but they would always re-hire me due to my skills as a handyman,” Ralph said. “But one day, they let me go for good.”
Soon after, he lost his wife and kids as well. He continued a lifestyle of drinking and drug use for many years, moving back and forth between Indianapolis and Kentucky. In 1996, Ralph served 24 months in the penitentiary. He was released on parole in 1998, but soon fell to drugs and alcohol once again, living “on the run.” The law finally caught up with Ralph, and he was put on parole again, but this time, he finished parole and started to head down the right track.
He was living with his girlfriend in Tennessee at the time, working as a tobacco picker when he was the victim of a farming accident in which his foot was crushed by a 3,000-lb. wagon. Ralph was bedridden for almost a year, unable to work due to this injury. In 2005, Ralph and his then-girlfriend welcomed their daughter, Lakin. Before Lakin turned one year old, her mother was arrested and still remains in prison today. Ralph attempted to raise his baby girl as a single father, but as drinking and drugs came back into Ralph’s life, he lost custody. He knew it was time to take control of his life and get back on the right path. Being a veteran, he reached out to the Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation (HVAF) as well as Goodwill for help. Due to a criminal history and his disability, Ralph was having a very difficult time finding employment.