Nathaniel Winston said he knew he had a steep hill to climb, trying to find a job after spending more than 30 years in prison. “Once I was released, I wasn’t sitting around waiting for someone to give me a job,” he said. He anticipated not getting past the application process with some employers. However, he was not deterred.
“It can be done. You can make the transition from prison to a successful citizen,” he said. Winston made that transition with help from Goodwill. Today, he oversees warehouse operations for a local flooring manufacturing company and has a steady stream of income to provide for his family.
His journey to success started in April 2017, when he was released from a Virginia prison after 34 years. He was 51 years old. “I heard about Goodwill while I was serving my time,” he said.
Goodwill’s re-entry program provides assistance to returning citizens like Winston and connects them with resources and support, including:
- Preparing for employment
- Disclosing a criminal record
- Understanding the job application process
- Interviewing best practices
- Restoration of Civil Rights
- Obtaining a driver’s license and housing
- Bonding program
- Expungement process
Winston walked into a Goodwill Community Employment Center in Richmond in May 2017 and met with Terry Gates, an employment specialist. “Nathaniel told me he was interested in our re-entry services. He was motivated and ready to move past his background and become a success,” said Gates.
First, Winston worked with Gates on his resume, which included education he received while incarcerated. “I received my general education diploma, and I took some college-level courses,” Winston said. He also studied several trades, including plumbing, electrical work and residential construction. Gates said she noticed Winston always kept a positive attitude. “He came to the CEC every day to look for a job. He was always professional,” she said.
Next, Gates helped Winston deal with what would be a different job search experience. “We were able to create a resume tailored for labor-related employment, based on his trades education. We also went over the process of disclosing his criminal background to employers. I also told Nathaniel he should physically walk into businesses, fill out an application and connect with a hiring manager,” she said.
In June 2017, Winston used the knowledge and support he received from Goodwill and walked into Epoxy Systems, an industrial and commercial flooring company in Richmond. “I filled out an application and continued to come by and call to follow up. It got to the point where the receptionist knew me by name. The last time I went there, she introduced me to who I thought was the hiring manager,” Winston said. Unknowingly, Winston was talking to Mike Steele, Epoxy’s owner.
“I heard he applied for a job and kept following up. I saw that as a positive sign that he was eager to work,” said Steele. Steele said he has hired employees who needed a second chance, so Winston’s situation was not foreign to him. What made Winston stand out was his persistence. “Many of our jobs require a clean background, but at the time I had a warehouse position that didn’t require a lot of experience. So, I gave Nathaniel a shot. He hasn’t missed a day of work. You can’t do better than that,” Steele said.
Winston credits Goodwill with helping him find a job within two months of his release. “Goodwill was very helpful. I had access to computers, they helped me write a resume and gave me re-entry assistance,” he said. He hopes his journey inspires other job seekers to not dwell on their past, but focus on their future. “Getting a job isn’t just about having money. It gives you a sense of worth — you can say ‘yes, I did that.’”
Individuals who were incarcerated face many challenges to work. In addition to providing support to the job seekers, Goodwill partners with employers who, like Mike Steele, believe in second chances. If you are an employer interested in working with Goodwill and our job seekers, call 804-745-6300.