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Horticultural Society Gives Ex-Convicts Second Chance

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Wendell Harrison works full time installing solar panels Wendell Harrison works full time installing solar panels
Robert Johnson hopes to one day work full time in horticulture Robert Johnson hopes to one day work full time in horticulture

One organization is giving second chances and in a big way. The Horticultural Society in New York City helps give ex-offenders another chance at a career that would otherwise be challenging to find.

It's hard enough to find work out there. But for ex-offenders coming out of prison and looking for a second chance, the odds can feel insurmountable. The unemployment rate for former inmates is up to 60 percent nationally.

However, in New York City, the Horticultural Society is helping them, quite literally, grow.

"When I was incarcerated, I just felt, 'wow, I let myself down, I let my family down and I needed to find a way to pick myself back up," says Wendell Harrison.

Wendell Harrison served 8 months in Rikers Island, NYC's main jail complex. Today, he works full time installing solar panels after completing horticultural training.

It starts in Rikers, but once ex-offenders are released, they enter the Greenteam Paid Internship Program. As part of the program, they maintain New York's gardens, install green roofs, landscape city parks and plant trees. The program offers transitional work opportunities and then job placement.

"It keeps your mind occupied and you're not wandering or thinking too much what you should be doing, what you shouldn't be doing and it also brings on responsibility and I think that is the first step in building a career and building a future for yourself," says Sal Bacarella, a board member on the Horticulture Society of New York.

Robert Johnson is a Greenteam intern. He hopes to one day work full time, doing a surprisingly fulfilling job.

"It's like growing, you can say 'I grew that,' that came out my nature that came out from my strength, my pain, my struggle, and it makes you feel great, you know."

Programs like this offer hope. According to one study, only about 40 percent of employers would hire applicants with criminal records.

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