The felony question is located about mid-way down the front page of the application. Ormeshia Linton checks the box marked "Yes" and neatly prints "Tippecanoe County, 1995" on the line asking for details. Then she marches into the Glendale Mall tuxedo store.
Ormeshia Linton: "A lot of people who get out of jail just fall back with the same friends and the same lifestyle that got them locked up to begin with. I"ve been lucky."
Linton asks for the manager, and gets right to the point. In the two months since she was released from the Rockville Correctional Facility, she has applied for dozens of jobs. She has learned something in the process. The store may have a help-wanted sign on its display window, but they may not want to get that help from an ex-felon. "Sure, I could lie on the application," Linton says. "But eight years is a big gap to explain. So I tell the truth. But that doesn"t seem to get me very far." The tuxedo store manager says she is not sure of the company policy about hiring applicants with criminal records, but she does give an approving once-over to the neatly dressed and well-spoken Linton. "You don"t look like that to me," the manager says. But she also tells Linton the job available is only 10 hours a week at $6.25 an hour. "A job for a high school kid, really," the manager says with an apologetic shrug. Linton already has a job like that, making $6.50 an hour for part-time work fund-raising over the telephone. She thanks the store manager, leaves the application and walks down the mall to the athletic shoe store. There she politely informs the salesman in the striped referee shirt about the tax credits and bonding that are available for businesses that hire ex-offenders. Linton leaves the mall without either an offer for work or realistic prospects to bring her income above poverty wages. Yesterday wasn"t any better. Downtown, she was rejected for a vending company position and for a security guard job, both because of her record. She has had no luck at Circle Centre Mall, restaurants, pharmacies, warehouses, even at an ex-offender job fair. "Sometimes the application says a conviction will not interfere with you getting a job," Linton says. "But that isn"t the real situation." Linton is one of 9,000 adults released from the Indiana Department of Correction this year. Each will face their own set of challenges. But with few exceptions, they all return to job and housing markets that are not ready for them. Charlie Mae"s House More than most, Linton is prepared to handle the challenges of life after incarceration. While in custody, she kicked her drug habit and returned to school, earning an associate"s degree from Oakland City College. Through the Department of Correction, she worked assembly lines and drove a forklift at two different companies. With the money Linton earned, she repaid the state for her room and board, contributed to a victim impact fund and sent money to her grandmother, who was caring for her daughter. Linton maintained her relationship with 13-year-old Taquita through parenting classes at the Indiana Women"s Prison and frequent visits after her transfer to Rockville. In 1995, Tippecanoe County Superior Court Judge Donald Johnson sent Linton to prison for selling cocaine. She was not due to be released until 2009. But when the judge learned of her efforts toward rehabilitation, he reduced her sentence. "Ormeshia is better equipped to handle the transition from prison to the outside world than most any client I have had," says the lawyer, James Edgar, who argued for her early release. "She is one of the most motivated ex-offenders I have ever seen." As she is quick to point out, Linton is also more fortunate than most ex-offenders. Unlike many, she left prison for a supportive extended family and a safe place to stay. Linton lives along with four other women and their five children at Charlie Mae"s House, a Northside transitional home founded by Earnestine Colvin, a longtime caregiver for mental health and homeless service agencies. Linton says Charlie Mae"s House, named for Colvin"s late mother, is more home than shelter, her fellow residents more family than roommates. "This type of support system really makes a difference for me," she says. "A lot of people who get out of jail just fall back with the same friends and the same lifestyle that got them locked up to begin with. I"ve just been lucky." Lucky, perhaps. Earnest, certainly. But sometimes, late in the evening, when Linton boards the 17 College bus to head home from a job that pays sub-poverty wages and is scheduled to end in February, it seems that neither good fortune nor good will are enough to produce success. Linton"s daughter was scheduled to move in with her over the Christmas school break, but lack of money has postponed the long dreamed-of reunion. "I feel that if I only get a chance, I can prove myself," Linton says. "But sometimes I feel like I"m failing." For more information about Charlie Mae"s House, call 925-0425.