KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Spring hasn’t smelled this good to Otis Steen in a long time.
The Raytown, Missouri, man’s 15-year prison sentence ended the day before Thanksgiving 2020.
“I can smell fresh air,” he said at Sarah Colman-Livengood Park Thursday.
He has an even bigger reason to smile now.
One week ago, he landed a job after filling out hundreds of applications. He now works for All Care Services, a property maintenance company.
“I pressed through the barriers and kept going forward,” Steen said. “Things have changed as far as the way you find jobs, you don’t just go in and say, ‘May I have an application?’ No, you have to go online.”
41 Action News first profiled the organization and its mission to help people re-enter the world after prison in January.
Since then, SWAGG, INC. opened an office at 4327 Troost Ave., Suite 205, launched a research project into the effects of mass incarceration with Notre Dame de Sion High School Students, and is working with the DeBruce Foundation and HireKC to bring on employees and expand its reach.
“I’ve been in a debtor type system with re-entering and being incarcerated over the course of my life,” explained founder Na’im Al-Amin, who was released from prison almost exactly three years ago. “And I haven’t had ownership in what my release looks like. So the opportunity to provide that [ownership] to people who may not have that otherwise is what keeps me going.”
Al-Amin’s organization works on two fronts. First, it helps inmates develop a plan for re-entry before they even leave prison, something Al-Amin has dubbed “pre-entry.” Second, the organization shows companies returning citizens like Steen carry more reward than risk.
“So he [Steen] can have that dignified employment, that the employer is comfortable with his past and also the employer is interested in helping him get to the next step,” Al-Amin explained.
For Steen, that next step is to pay it forward and help others achieve.
“I’m at a point now to have stability and I think a lot of pressure’s been taken off my back,” Steen explained.
SWAGG, INC. is hosting a job fair for returning citizens and the community at large Friday, April 2, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. It takes place at Equal Minded Cafe and Event Space at 4327 Troost Ave.
Companies like FedEx, Goodwill and All Care Services will be participating and conducting on-the-spot hiring.
SWAGG, INC. also now hosts a support group on Sunday mornings for families of those currently incarcerated. It also meets at Equal Minded Cafe from 10 a.m. to noon.
Al-Amin has also developed a virtual workshop program called "Don't Rodney King Me," where anyone who registers for the recurring online event can learn about the cycles of mass incarceration and ask questions.
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