Susie was filling out her application to work at the Goodwill store in Lexington when she came upon the question she’d been dreading: “Have you been convicted of a felony in the past 10 years?”
She answered “no,” but next to that wrote, “1998.”
During her interview, Manager Kelly Tinin reviewed Susie’s application. As they neared the question about felony convictions, Susie grew nervous.
“But when we discussed it, Kelly said, ‘OK, that’s what Goodwill is here for,’” Susie recalled. “It made me feel really good to know that I wasn’t being judged from the get-go.”
At that point, Susie had only been out of prison for 60 days. She had served 17 years.
Susie grew up in east Tennessee. Her parents were ill for many years and Susie and her siblings had to take care of them. She dropped out of high school and had two children who were 6 and 2 when she went to prison.
Susie made the best of her time at the prison for women in Memphis. She took classes in computer skills, carpentry, commercial cleaning and more. She acquired her general equivalency diploma. And she worked as a shipping and receiving manager for a private company on the grounds of the prison.
In many ways, Susie was well-prepared to return to society. But when she was finally freed in November of 2015, she was filled with anxiety and self-doubt.
Susie’s best friend, who is wheelchair-bound and lives in Lexington, offered to let Susie move in if she would assist her around the house. Susie decided to accept her offer and make a new start in West Tennessee.
She applied with many employers but hoped most of all for the job at Goodwill, because she had heard the nonprofit was a supportive place to work.
“And because Ii’m a girl and I like clothes,” she added, smiling.
Though Susie was very timid, Tinin felt right away that she would be a good fit at the Lexington Goodwill store. She offered Susie a job as a donations processor.
At first, Susie had trouble opening up to fellow team members and would get upset if she did not meet production goals. But with Tinin’s support and guidance, Susie eventually began setting the pace for other employees.
“Over time her confidence grew and grew, and she is now one of my trainers for new employees,” Tinin said. “She’s an inspiration.”
Susie has now worked at Goodwill for more than a year. She says she enjoys her job and loves the way her co-workers have accepted her. Other aspects of her life have improved as well. She says she is hopeful she can build on relationships with her children, who are now adults.
“Goodwill gave me the opportunity to prove to myself and everybody else that I am a changed person — that I am going to be a productive citizen,” she said. “It’s been a real blessing.”
“Don’t underestimate yourself. You’ve got to believe in yourself before anybody else is going to believe in you.”
– Susie’s advice for people struggling to overcome a criminal history
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— By Chris Fletcher
Prior to joining Goodwill as its PR & Communications Manager in 2014, Fletcher was a professional journalist for
more than 25 years working at media outlets in three states, including the Associated Press.