Maurice Watts had just spent 12 hours driving an 18-wheeler truck for Common Disposal, a saltwater transport company based in San Augustine, his’ hometown in rural East Texas. Watts held an envelope with $238, the first of six loan repayments to the Legacy Institute for Financial Education (LIFE), a Lufkin-based nonprofit organization that had lent him $1,350. In January, Watts was released from prison. At 43 years old and without a college degree, his job prospects were slim. Through LIFE, Watts received job training, secured a short-term loan to pay for food and gas, and developed the communication skills he needed to land a stable job as a commercial truck driver. Watts’ path to reentry is not shared by the tens of thousands of other Texans with criminal backgrounds who struggle on their release from prison, the Texas Tribune reports.
Although they have served their sentences, former prisoners often deal with collateral consequences — barriers that extend punishment beyond incarceration. Topping the list are housing and employment. Landlords and employers often exclude people with criminal backgrounds. Advocates for ex-inmates people have long pushed for more compassionate state policies that would simplify reentry. Among the changes they propose: automatically expunging criminal records for those who qualify and removing licensing restrictions that prevent former prisoners from entering certain occupations. Policy change has been hard to come by in Texas. To fill the void left by state policy, nonprofit organizations like LIFE are stepping in to help formerly incarcerated people. LIFE was founded by Joseph Ceasar, a pastor who grew up in Houston and worked as a financial adviser before turning to the nonprofit sector. Since the reentry program began last year, 26 of the 52 participants have completed an education or occupational skills training program. None has returned to prison.