Life on the Outside: Five Jobs for Ex-Cons

Jobs  photo
Photo by Library Company of Philadelphia

Americans love an underdog. At least in theory. In real life, underdog equals loser. If your legal issues have left you an underdog, you’re going to find out fast that in a tough economy, underdogs lose out. And it gets worse. Ex-cons are more likely to end up back in prison if they aren’t employed. It seems employment of any sort gives those who have served their time on the inside a chance to stay on the outside. So, what is someone who has done time supposed to do?

The competition is as fierce as it has ever been, and everyone is bringing their A-game. The trick for recently released inmates is not to bring your best game in the wrong league. Most of you won’t be employable by mainstream standards, not at first. So, look outside the mainstream. Here are a five potential sources of work that most folks would pass by, but which might be your ticket to a long life on the outside:

  • Local performing arts theaters might seem a bit out of your league, but look closer. These small-scale theaters (and even the larger ones) hire people to the unload trucks carrying stage sets and costumes. Look in your local phone book, or do a Yahoo! search to find the theater near you. Often, the performer or show will have their own “roadies,” but find that they need an extra pair of hands for one or two local shows. This is a perfect way to develop a reputation as a hard worker
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  • The carnival always needs help when it comes to town. Most are willing to hire people with a criminal record as long as they haven’t been convicted of a sex crime or a violent crime. Call the county clerk and ask for the name of the company they hire for the county fair and the name of the contact person. Give them a call and let them know you want to talk to them when they come to town. Once you have experience in the carnival business, you’ll be able to land a permanent position.
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  • Many people, including ex-cons, believe that fast-food restaurants are beneath them. They don’t want to wear a paper hat and ask everyone in sight if they would like fries with their order. But before you rush to judgment about the job, remember how employers rush to judgment about you. Fast-food restaurants allow you to establish a solid work history, and most have opportunities for promotion. Granted, the pay isn’t great at first, but the company is putting a significant amount of resources into your training, and you get promoted, you learn more and more about business management. It can be a valuable experience if you decide to give it a chance.
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  • If you’ve been incarcerated for any length of time, you might not have heard about jobs “Americans won’t do.” Jobs in like this include jobs on large commercial farms. If you live near one of these facilities and speak English, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to get hired. Commercial milk producers and vegetable growers will hire ex-cons who are willing to work. No experience necessary. You don’t even need to know the difference between a cow and a stalk of celery. If you’ll do the work they’ll show you how to do it.
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  • No one wants to clean toilets for a living. That’s good news if you’re an ex-con looking for a job. Someone is always in need of a bathroom cleaner–event organizers, portable toiled suppliers, truck stops, gas stations, and every other business that has a pit stop open to the public. Put in applications with event organizers and sanitation providers, as well as individual businesses hiring for cleaning, maintenance, or janitorial work.


Don’t fall prey to the darkness of rejection. Even if it seems hopeless, you can still secure a job and earn an honest living if you are realistic about your prospects and willing to trade an honest day’s work for an honest, albeit low, wage.