Nonprofit Group Grants Ex-Cons a Second Chance

Right before her shift begins, Deanna Hall wipes down a table. She speaks softly while smiling at the Waffle House customers.

Hall has been working at the restaurant for about a year now. After going to prison for shooting her stepdad, she didn’t know if she would ever have a job.

“I wasn’t expecting much, but I just try to put my best foot forward and make the most of what would be available to me,” she said. “I knew that I would have to pull out more resources. While I was incarcerated, I worked as much as I could and looked for the opportunities that would be available to me.”

Hall got the job through a local nonprofit organization, Unlocking DOORS. Its CEO, Christina Melton Crain, describes the organization as someone’s primary care doctor by first seeing how the person, who has just been released from jail or prison, is doing overall and then referring them to specialists. It’s a comprehensive network of all re-entry services.

on a mission

Unlocking DOORS works to reduce recidivism by:

  • Assessing client needs by identifying general risks, measuring behavior, identifying financial eligibility for assistance, and getting a grasp of job interest and skill sets
  • Creating a custom plan for clients to meet goals
  • Helping clients prepare for employment through training and resources
  • Monitoring the clients for up to four years or the completion of their plan

CONTACT: 214-296-9258
Click here to donate.

“We want to make sure that people that are coming out [of prison] have a second chance. Truly,” said Crain, a Preston Hollow resident. “That they have the opportunity to have doors open to them. And we’re not just setting them up to fail because of all of the rules and regulations and fees and fines that we’re putting on them. When they do good, we do good. We use our tagline, ‘When doors open for a few, lives change for us all,’ and that is so true because if they do well, then there is less crime in the communities, so your communities are safer.”

Unlocking DOORS has more than 90 partners statewide and the organizations range from substance abuse care to housing to mental health. The crimes of the offenders also range, Crain explained, from spray painting a car to murder.

When Hall finally reached out to Unlocking DOORS, she had been without a job for more than a year. She saw a case manager from DOORS on a Tuesday and had her job at Waffle House on Thursday.

Since connecting with DOORS, Hall attends every meeting and event, Crain said. To show their appreciation, Crain and DOORS awarded Hall its first ever Achievement Award.

Hall explained how surprised she was to earn the award. She couldn’t be in Texas for the awards ceremony, so her father accepted it for her.

“I wrote a speech for my father to say for me,” she said. “I was pretty excited. The award is beautiful.”

Hall is 18 credits shy of earning her associate’s degree from The University of Phoenix while working about 30 hours per week.

“She is very much a go-getter,” Crain said. “Anything we invite her to, she comes to, and she is just so excited about having the opportunities she never thought she’d have.
She’s amazing.”

This story originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Preston Hollow People.

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