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The things we do to survive

 

Ray Rogers has a second lease on life. On April 11th, 2017, he was released from prison after completing half of a 15-year sentence for a felony charge. Now, at 37, he is taking full advantage of better options to live a life that he never knew existed. “Growing up, I didn’t know anything about getting a legitimate job. What I’m doing now, waking up and going to work, that wasn’t something I saw often. Everyone I knew worked in the streets. It was all about survival. What I’m now doing is something new.” Rogers grew up down south, with his mother, as his father was absent. He did not have any role models or other positive images to look up to.   

“I was just surviving. When I look back, I wasn’t doing it [ involved in the streets] for materialistic reasons. I was surviving the best way I could. And that’s how I’ve learned how to do it. That’s what it’s like, living in the streets. Then I had kids. When I had them, I had to take care of them, I had my own place. Then I got caught up.”

Upon returning to society, Rogers connected with the Teamwork Englewood’s Re-Entry Services Department. Thanks to our Re-Entry Department team members, Mark Mitchell, Maanasi Laird, and a partnership with the Dakota Rim Assembly plant, Rogers has just completed his first three months as a fulltime Assembly Line Operator. After the three-month probation period, he is now eligible for health and retirement benefits, counseling services, and other resources to support an improved quality of life. “Now that I’m coming up on four months, I can start thinking about going back to school. This job will pay for my tuition.”

Seeing school as a viable option is something new for Ray. He recalled growing up and being told to go to school. “When I was young, I would be asked, 'Where do I see myself in the future?' You can’t even see that far. You’re living for today and hoping you don’t die tomorrow. They say, ‘go to school’, and I'm trying to figure out what I would do if I did go to school. There’s no direction or guidance. If you don’t have someone positive in your life, and no one to guide you, you’re going to be a product of your environment.”

Ray is thankful for this opportunity and sees this as a platform to continue to grow. “I am learning how this business is run, about the operations, and more about the company, and can see myself taking on a managerial role.” He discussed a desire to pursue entrepreneurship, and use it as a vehicle to support other people who have lived a life like his. “I want to open my own restaurant and provide jobs for formally incarcerated men and women. I see my purpose coming true and I know that I can play a part in helping those people who are and were on the streets, just like me.” 

When Rogers was released, he found shelter in a halfway house. Prior to working at the plant, he was employed by a temp agency, and doing odd construction jobs for a contractor. He’d make $70 a day in cash, with no benefits. These positions did not provide stability, and made it impossible for landlords to rent to him. Now that he’s employed, he’s making plans to finally get an apartment. “I have a daughter here in Chicago, who lives with her mother. I have not been able to see her because I live in the halfway house. I don’t want my daughter coming here to see me. When I get my new place, I will be able to see her and take care of her."

Ray doesn’t regard himself as a motivational speaker, but knows that he can help change lives by sharing his story. “The best part about my life is that my story isn’t over. I’m just getting started. When I was in prison, I had a lot of time to think about my choices. I was doing a lot of negative things back then. And now I challenged myself to do positive things. I had to step outside myself, if that makes sense, and have a conversation to commit to doing things better. I want to exemplify the message I am sharing with other people by living it.”

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