My Story: J. Jhondi Harrell

J. Jhondi Harrell is Goodwill Industries International’s 2013 Kenneth Shaw Graduate of the Year. His journey to employment started when he transitioned to a halfway house after 18 years of a 20-year prison sentence.

No matter what I did, it seemed like I couldn’t find a job. There were jobs that I had been accepted for, but they were vetoed by the halfway house. I was at a very low point; my case manager had informed me that if I didn’t find a job by year’s end, they would begin paperwork to initiate my return to prison.

The Philadelphia Mayor’s Office for Re-Entry referred me to Goodwill Industries of Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia. On December 23, 2009, I was hired by Goodwill Industries. The workforce at Goodwill was all ex-offenders in various stages of transition. I was turned over to Ray Newstadt, who ran the floor.

I was treated with respect and kindness throughout my time there. Goodwill appreciated my situation and worked with me to make my transition smooth.
I had to overcome many challenges — an 18-year gap in my work history, adjusting to the free world, fitting back into my family and community, and accepting how difficult it would be to move forward in my life.

Goodwill Industries did so many things to make that transition smoother. They provided computers so that I could do job searches before and after work. Ray allowed me to hang a suit in the back of the warehouse so that I could go out on interviews on my lunch hour and after work.

With Goodwill’s job placement assistance, I was able to hone my interview skills, and I landed a job as house manager with Gaudenzia Inc. Goodwill then helped me to enroll in the University of Phoenix. I attained my associate’s degree while incarcerated, and within two years had attained my bachelor’s degree in human service management. I was promoted from a house manager’s position to a counselor assistant, and in August of 2012, I began work on my master of social work at Temple University.

I was offered a counselor position at Gaudenzia, but in the interim, I was offered a much better and higher paying position as a service coordinator at a firm called Pathways to Housing, which I accepted.

In June of 2011, I co-founded the Comprehensive Center for the Formerly Incarcerated, which later became the Center for Returning Citizens (TCRC), a non-profit agency that assists former prisoners in their re-entry. In addition, I established a transitional housing program, The Second Chance Project, which provides housing for returning citizens to transition from the halfway house or prison back into society.

Through each step of this process, Goodwill has been there to support my efforts with moral support and encouragement. The accomplishments which I have been able to achieve would not have been possible without them.