About Joseph Shaw
Viante recently had the pleasure of getting to interview one of Viante’s Board Advisors, Joseph Shaw, who is also the Executive Director of the nonprofit, Father’s Building Futures, whose mission is to ensure parents experiencing barriers from incarceration have the best opportunities for stability; emotionally, socially and financially. The project is training men with tremendous barriers to success in New Mexico’s workforce.
As a former client who has since risen to lead this organization, Joseph understands many of the barriers that the formerly incarcerated face when reintegrating into society. Find out what Joesph wants you to know and how we can decrease crime in our state.
Below is a transcript of the audio recording between Viante’s Executive Director, Rhiannon Samuel and Board Advisor, Joseph Shaw. (This interview was transcribed using speech to text. Please excuse minor errors and small differences between the audio and the text.)
Introductions (Audio at 00:00)
Rhiannon: Well hello my name is Rhiannon Samuel and I am the Executive Director of Viante New Mexico. We’re a transparency educational platform that looks to solve New Mexico’s education, crime, and quality-of-life issues through holding our public officials accountable. With me today we have one of our Board Advisors, Joseph Shaw, who is also the Executive Director of Father’s Building Futures. So thank you, Joseph.
Question: Tell us about Father’s Building Futures (Audio at :30)
Rhiannon: I first want to start with having you describe for us what Father’s Building Futures is.
Joseph: So Father’s Building Futures is a local nonprofit. We are social Enterprise and we primarily focus on helping fathers returning home from prison. So we provide on-the-job training we do job development, financial education, mentorship, and parenting groups. We also do a lot of peer support because that goes a long way and it gives a lot of hope. When others see others doing good, it gives hope and hope can be really powerful when you give an opportunity to apply it to a second chance. It reassures people that they’re going to have an opportunity to do good.
Rhiannon: How many fathers have you seen?
Joesph: Since 2012 to 2018, we served over 450. We have an 82% success rate. I mean change isn’t for everybody, so we can act like it is. We have our successes and we have our failures. We don’t we don’t screen anyone out though for any particular reason. We really stick to our model of, if you want to be here it’s a volunteer program – it’s not court-mandated, it’s not it’s not ordered by probation and parole. So, any of the gentleman that actually walk to the door are really there be because they want to be there. We take that and we give it the best shot we got.
Rhiannon: So how do you define success for the program for a father?
Joseph: Sustainability. Our mission is to ensure parents and families experiencing barriers for incarceration have the opportunity to experience stability financially, emotionally, and socially. If they can reintegrate back into New Mexico workforce, into the lives of their families. And then they can also have a sense of security by having a sustainable living wage or opportunity to grow within some sort of employer opportunity. That gives them hope that they’re going to be on the right path.
Rhiannon: You seem very passionate about this work. What brought you to do it?
Joseph: I started as a client. I was released from incarceration in December of 2012 – I was looking at 8½ years in prison. I was a heroin addict, and I used to do meth. While I was incarcerated, waiting to be sentenced, either I was going to get out on a second chance or I was going to go do my 8½ years. Some people came in. At the time, Father’s Building Futures was under our parenting agency, PB&j Family Services. We have completely separated from them, but that’s how it started. The case workers came into the pod and they were like, “does anybody want to join these parenting groups?” We’re like yeah, why not. So I did the parenting groups and they said if you get a chance to get released, we have an incubator program it gives you the opportunity to start there was a minimum wage. It’s 20 hours a week, it’s not really enough to live off of, but it’s a stepping stone to get you headed in the right path. So, I did it. When I got out, I was lucky my judge gave me a second chance so I went to the incubator and I took advantage of every opportunity there was. Father’s Building Futures has tried a lot of different vocational opportunities to try to give the clients in the population that we serve the best opportunity to reintegrate into New Mexico’s workforce. They tried distribution furniture upholstery, we still have a custom wood shop, we do the auto detailing, mobile power washing, freight and delivery in partnership with Roadrunner Rood Bank, where our dads were able to go through a fast-track CDL program. It’s a 6-week class and at the end of it, they got a CDL. Roadrunner was like, okay. Well, a CDL is good, but nobody will hire you without 2 years of experience. So send your guys to us, we’ll let them drive our trucks, our routes, it goes all over the state picking up donations and dropping off food to pantry store houses, churches. I would say that 88% of the dads that went through that program are still working to this day. Some are even over the road across the country.
Rhiannon: How is that different than what was being done before?
Joseph: What do you mean?
Rhiannon: So when gentlemen would come out of incarceration, what kind of environment were they greeted with and how is that different from what Father’s Building Futures is providing for them?
Joseph: Being a participant in that revolving door of incarceration, and I’m speaking of myself, there was never any resource to go to. I never knew there was so many resources out there until I started participating with Father’s Building Futures. And then I got to know all these people that didn’t even know me, but they cared so much. It gave me hope. I wasn’t athletic and stuff so I never knew what it was like to be part of a team. To be part of a team and belong to have something that you could really be proud of, that you stand for, really gave me hope. I just stuck with the program long enough to where I became the wood shop supervisor and then I was considered to be the site supervisor. So, I did that and I was just helping run all the different departments and scheduling and stuff. Then [I became] the operations manager. Then last year, to fulfill a vision that our Founder had – Emet Ma’ayan is our founder, he’s our past Executive Director also – he always wanted the place to be ran by felons, supporting felons. It’s that peer support model. After a while, the community volunteers that used to run the different vocational opportunities started transitioning out and we started promoting clients to run the wood shop, to run detail, to run mobile power washing. So, there was a place except, for the Executive Director position. So last year in June, he decided to step down and allow me to step into that position.
Rhiannon: Wow, what an incredible organization Thank you for all the work that you do and I’m so pleased to hear that it’s really serving a need in the community. And that’s what I want to get into.
Question: What is the Biggest Motivating Factor for Crime? (Audio at 07:35)
Rhiannon: The second part is talking about crime in New Mexico and the challenges we face. In your experience, what is the biggest motivating factor for crime – for yourself and others that you saw in the system?
Joseph: With doing a little bit of research and study, ok, and speaking from experience, there’s different reasons in my point of view of why people resort to crime on a consistent basis. Tt could be drug addiction, which is huge. A lot of people, once they hit what you would call “rock bottom,” they know they can’t go back to work. Nobody’s going to give them the opportunity, because of the image that they’re holding. You can see it on people when they’re under the influence and they know they don’t have a chance, but they still need money, they still have families, they still have kids, they still need to provide and they still have a substance abuse issue that they’re going to continue doing on a daily basis. So, I mean, that’s huge and in other situations to like being released from incarceration, you come with this barrier. You lose a lot of basic human rights and I don’t know if it’s okay to share it, but there’s a book out there called, The New Jim Crow. So Jim Crow Laws, a lot of people in the past lost their right to vote, [to] education, [to their] home, [to] work – so in that book, we as a population of felons with criminal backgrounds, are being considered as the new “Jim Crow.” Because we’re eliminated from all those things. We don’t qualify for a lot of employment opportunities, our applications get screened out by the new technology of software – like if that box is checked, it’s like an automatic, shoo (made sound like something being tossed out). It just gets pushed to the side.
Rhiannon: Describe to us which box is that?
Joseph: The box that asks, “are you a convicted felon.” [It creates a] lack of opportunity, because given the opportunity to the right person, it’s amazing what they do with it. Like I said, not everybody does, sometimes it’s a waste of time and resources and effort. You think you got the right candidate and you don’t, but I mean, if you miss out on that one person, you’re missing out on the asset.
Question: What is New Mexico doing well to help felons get back on their feet? (Audio at 10:25)
Rhiannon: With all of these challenges you described, what is New Mexico doing well in to help felons get back on their feet following incarceration…if anything?
Joseph: Well CNM is doing great things. [It’s a] local community college, they have started a re-entry program with a lot of vocational opportunities that people with a criminal background do qualify for and their short-term certificates. I see that as a huge plus. I mean, we’re doing everything we can. To be honest with you, Rhiannon, there’s not a lot of resources for father’s coming out of prison. There is not. That’s why Father’s Building Futures was created, because PB&J have been serving incarcerated families, specifically [for] moms and children because they’re an early childhood development program. But the social workers found themselves in a bind every time, because they’re providing all the services to moms and kids – and then dad comes home, and there’s nothing for him. There’s nowhere to go, there’s nothing to do – he has nowhere to turn. So, history repeats itself and Dad ends up going back to prison because he wants to be a provider, he wants to step out of that stereotype of, “you shouldn’t have your children on welfare and you should be providing, and they should have stability.” Ok, but if you won’t give me a job, how can I do that? So, they end up where they didn’t want to go back to – sometimes, by no choice. I mean we all have a choice, don’t get me wrong. I can’t say that’s an excuse, but sometimes it happens.
Rhiannon: Well the options are limited, so it become more difficult to put yourself on the straight and narrow path, as they say. So, that’s understandable.
Question: Where do New Mexico lawmakers need to focus in order to improve our crime? (Audio at 12:26)
Rhiannon: So where would New Mexico lawmakers need to focus on in order to address these voids and to improve our crime in our society?
Joseph: It is taking steps forward. Expungement got signed into law, so that’s huge. I have run across, and I know people personally, [who] have made a mistake in their past. Eighteen-years-old, nineteen-years-old, they’re in their forties now, and they’re going back to school. They haven’t had any other convictions or anything in between nineteen and forty-years-old. They go back to school, they’re in the medical field, they want to do something positive and they can’t get license because of a felony they had when they were nineteen. So, there should be a statute of limitations on that, because it’s like a parenting. If your child makes a mistake at five-years-old, you don’t hold it against them until twenty-five, you know what I mean? It’s not good structure. So, learning that process, like, don’t hold the mistakes your children to make against them to where it affects them in their future. I mean the same rule can be applied to people that have made mistakes in their past also. If they prove and show that they really have done everything that has been asked, required, or needed to be in a better place, how come they don’t get the opportunity to kind of make that mistake go away?
Ban the box was passed. It was signed into [law], so that’s huge. That’s the box we were talking about that’s on the applications. It was already in the public sector, state city, and county jobs, which our population doesn’t really qualify for anyway because they have their own internal policies. Stuff like seven years from your sentence…eight years. Whatever their background check is that qualifies or eliminates them from a felon applying for certain positions. But at least it gets people’s foot in the door now. I mean in the public sector, and now it’s in the private sector, which is huge because a lot of locally-owned businesses – some of them are large, some of them aren’t. We look at it like those are more the jobs that are our dads or our populations are looking for. Because they know if they can get by word of mouth or if they know somebody there, they would have a better opportunity of getting into something locally owned than something that has this big corporate policy book that exclude so many people from opportunity.
So, I think we’re headed in a good direction. There’s a lot of good bills that got signed in this year. I look forward to the next session and seeing what comes next because that just opens more doors of opportunity for the population that for so long, were just wondering why they can’t make a better choice? Why do you keep going back to prison? Why can’t you stop doing drugs? But if society doesn’t accept them – it doesn’t feel good to not be accepted.
Question: What is your favorite success story from Father’s Building Futures? (Audio at 15:52)
Rhiannon: So what is your favorite success story from Father’s Building Futures and somebody that was able to overcome all of these barriers?
Joseph: Oh man, so there’s so many. I don’t know if I can identify one. But, I would love to give my colleague and friend, Robert, a huge congratulations. I knew him from the streets. We used to do what we used to do together. We separated for about four years and then our [paths crossed] again, now at Father’s Building Futures. He’s a great guy. He’s been through a lot – he’s a single dad of four kids, two teenagers and then two younger ones.
Rhiannon: It’s a lot on his plate.
Joseph: It is and he does it, man. He keeps his head above water all the time, he has a positive attitude all the time. I don’t know how he navigates the different lives, because it’s not just his. And he was he was able to get the opportunity to apply for housing through Habitat for Humanity. Even though he’s a convicted felon and stuff like that, they gave him an opportunity. So, Jennifer Riordan has been a huge supporter of Father’s Building Futures for a long time. I mean she’s a beautiful person – she’s a person that always made me feel safe because our founder, Emet, would throw me into a lot of conventions and lunches and stuff where I didn’t feel like I belonged. I kind of felt like Jack on the Titanic and you know how she (Molly Brown, played by Kathy Bates) brings him and she gets him a suit and she and she takes care of him. I forget her name on the movie
Rhiannon: Rose, right?
Joseph: No, the other lady. You’ll know when you see it, but anyway. She’s like, you can’t come to dinner looking like that! I think her name was Miss Molly or something like that. But she got him a suit and even though he didn’t belong, she made him feel safe. She made him feel welcome and he didn’t have to be outside of who he really was. Jennifer was supportive to me like that. It’s amazing because I feel like she’s still watching over us. Robert received the house that’s being dedicated to her – that’s the Wells Fargo Jennifer Riordan House. And it was by coincidence. It wasn’t intentional at all. It was amazing, you know, because it was like a gift from up above to one of our dad’s again [who] really deserves success. Because he’s doing everything right.
Rhiannon: What an incredible story. Yes Jennifer was an incredible influence on this community and all those who had even a small opportunity to have her in their lives. Their lives lives are better for it. She’s still very, very missed
Question: With your continued growth and success of your programs, do you believe lawmakers will see the benefit of programs like these? How can lawmakers support this work? (Audio at 19:13)
Rhiannon: With the continued growth and success of your Father’s Building Futures programs, do you feel like the lawmakers see the benefits, are they helping your work at all or is there more they could be doing?
Joseph: When they hear about the program, it’s a great program. We would love the opportunity to get our foot in the door, to get more recognition, for sure. There’s not a lot of legislative support.
Rhiannon: Why is that?
Joseph: I don’t know, I don’t know. We did get a memorial from Senator Rue. He did our memorial and stuff, so we did get recognition. But I personally feel like there is not enough attention on the program and what it is doing and what the outcomes are. I mean, that would be huge if we could make that happen in some way.
Rhiannon: I think in the public dialogue right now, so often you hear our crime issue is really brought about through repeat offenders. And you hear that time and time again, if not from the lawmakers then from the news media, and so if programs like yours are helping those who are those repeat offenders get their life on track and get access to resources, why not support?
Joseph: That’s a true statement
Question: Other than donations, how can the public support the work that you’re doing? (Audio at 20:48)
Rhiannon: I have two different questions that I want to round all this out with. First is specific to Father’s Building Futures. Other than monetary contributions (donate here), which I know you guys are still grateful to receive, but how else can the general public support the work that you’re doing?
Joseph: I would say by getting involved. I mean bringing recognition to the program and what it stands for – what the outcomes are. Contributions are always a plus, but it’s not the only thing we need. We need more support from state and federal agencies. We want people to recognize that we’re a scalable model A lot of our rural counties need programs like these. It would be huge – it would be huge for the state. Why not get this population where they need to be to get a $20,000 or $30,000 a year job. They’re not looking to get rich and make $100,000 a year, but they just want to be sustainable, to be able to provide and have opportunity and then move to the next opportunity without having to struggle. It’s a basic want, it’s not too much to ask. Or we can keep doing what we’ve been doing – not noticing the problem and keep one individual incarcerated for $45,000 a year that they’re in there. It’s huge. It cost taxpayers billions and billions of dollars throughout the United States to keep people incarcerated. We incarcerate more people in the United States than anywhere else in the world. And there’s countries like Russia and China that are huge, way bigger than we are, [yet] we carry almost one-fourth of the world’s incarcerated population. 47% are African-American, it’s mostly men and women of color. A multibillion-dollar industry and [an] 80% failure rate. So it’s funny if you look at it in that perspective – why would people put so much money into something that’s failing? It seems like it’s a sinking ship. It seems like it’s really needed, but how come it’s not looked at in a different perspective?
Question: What do you wish the average person knew about crime that just isn’t being talked about? (Audio at 23:30)
Rhiannon: Final question, final thoughts – what do you wish the average person knew about crime that just isn’t being talked about?
Joseph: That’s a hard one.
Rhiannon: Threw you a little bit of a curveball there at the end.
Joseph: Crime is going to happen, I mean you can’t stop, it it’s going to happen. It’s been the way of the world since who knows when. The hardest thing in life is always to do the right thing and have integrity to do the right thing when nobody’s looking. As human beings we have temptation, we make poor choices and wrong decisions. But if we can look past how much it hurts us as individuals, in our community and be more reactive to it. Like, why is this happening? What’s going on? Why do people choose to do what they do? And if you really want to know you gotta get involved and you need to put your best foot forward in any kind of way.
If you’re a business employer, if your small business owner, save one position down at the bottom in your in your organization or in your place of employment that you own and save that one position for the right person that has a felony background. Of course, there are some crimes you got to exclude. I get it, and that’s understandable and that’s the right of the employer. But don’t exclude everybody just because they have a felony conviction. Take the time to find out what it is. If it’s if you see that a person just had a consistent drug habit, but they’ve done everything to be in a better place now, maybe give that person a chance. There’s tax benefits, too. it I mean there’s a lot of benefits to hiring felons and stuff like that. I just don’t want people to see the crime and look at the individual and turn a cheek. Why does the stuff happen that happens?
Rhiannon: Defining someone by crime instead of who they are as a person and where they’re at in life at that moment, right?
Perfect, well, thank you Joseph Shaw, Executive Director, of Father’s Building Futures and again, board advisor to Viante New Mexico. I, again, am Rhiannon Samuel, Executive Director. I hope you enjoyed our first podcast (of perhaps many), but we’ll see. Thank you!