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Non-Profit Teaches Released Convicts To Create Home Furnishings And New Lives

NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) -- Half of people released from prison are re-arrested within a year.

Most of them end up engaging in criminal activity because they can't find a job.

One non-profit has developed a way to gainfully employ former prisoners and turn them into entrepreneurs.

Employees at the Refoundry Woodshop have been creating tables, chairs, and headboards. They've also been creating new lives for themselves.

"This is the kind of work I like to do. I like working with my hands, when I was in prison for 20 years I worked with my hands for core crafts. I did all their products for 45 cents an hour. Why can't I come out here and do it for myself?" Eugene Manigo said.

As CBS2's Elise Finch reported, the company trains formerly incarcerated people to refurbish and re-purpose discarded materials into one-of-a-kind home furnishings.

Thomas Safian co-founded the non-profit in March. Using donations, and a lot of his own money, the English teacher turned furniture maker provides each employee with carpentry training and a year's salary.

Eventually each employee will start their own business.

"What we're doing is we're developing their skill to produce a particular product, and selling it through Refoundry's channels. When we incubate them they will have their own space, some of their own equipment, they will produce that under their own business entity," Safian explained.

Safian said the ideal Refoundry participant is someone who is a little bit older, has spent at least 5 years in prison and has already completed a transitional program.

"The tables I make, I have customers telling me how beautiful they are. It makes me feel really good. This is the first time in my life I ever looked forward to going to work," James Elby said.

Bianca Van Heydoorn is with the prisoner reentry institute at John Jay College.

She said Refoundry is providing key elements for success during the first three years after release when recidivism is highest.

"We know that immediate employment and earnings right in those critical moments when someone leaves prison is crucial. And I'm working alongside and learning alongside my peers, and there's something about that shared experience that can motivate folks to keep going," she said.

Employees said Refoundry's business model refurbishes furniture and lives.


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