Chicago Story: Finding Work With A Felony Record

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Donzell Minz is pictured at Curt's Cafe in Chicago. (Jeremy Hobson/Here & Now)
Donzell Mintz is pictured at Curt's Cafe in Chicago. (Jeremy Hobson/Here & Now)

There have been several more shootings in Chicago already this week, since the weekend violence that left seven people dead and 41 injured. The Chicago Sun-Times reports it was the city's most violent weekend of the year.

A week ago, a front-page New York Times story proclaimed that killings in Chicago were down to the lowest point since the early 1960s, thanks to cops working overtime patrolling the streets.

It brings to mind a story Here & Now did back in 2009 with Donzell Mintz, a teenager from Chicago's South Side.

At the time of the interview, Mintz had recently been hit in the face with a bottle trying to defend himself as a fight between two other teenagers got out of control.

Not long after that interview, Mintz ended up getting sent to prison for aggravated robbery.

Here & Now's incoming co-host Jeremy Hobson was in Chicago and caught up with Mintz, who is now 21. He got out of prison a month ago and is now working at Curt's Cafe, a nonprofit program for young ex-offenders.

Hobson also spoke with the cafe's owner Susan Trieschmann, who renovated her for-profit business to create the program, and Corey Brooks, pastor of the New Beginnings Church of Chicago.

____Interview Highlights: Donzell Mintz____

Why he went to jail

"At the time, I got into an altercation with my sister's baby father. He accused me of taking something from him and my sister took his side and kicked me out the house. So at the time I was a senior. I went to an alternative school called Second Chance ... and everything was going good until that happened. And I felt like my back was against the wall and nobody wanted to help me because I wanted to go to the Navy after I graduated high school, but I felt like nobody was with me. So I decided to try to rob somebody and wound up getting caught, and wound up having to do three years."

On working at Curt's Cafe

"They train you in all positions in a restaurant, so when you do go and try to apply for a restaurant [job], like an Olive Garden, on your resume it will say you've been trained to be a bus boy, cash register, a cook. People that already have a career come in and talk to the employees about their career choice, how they went about making their career. Like I want to be an elevator installer and [Susan Trieschmann] said she'll have an elevator installer come in and talk to the group."

His message to someone in his shoes three years ago

"Do they have anybody to talk to? If they don't, go on the Internet and find a community center — right now I'm trying to get my sister in a community center — and get a mentor to talk. People out there they just doing it just cause they see him doing it, but when they see him come home with a McDonalds suit, and him come home with a car that he's paying car notes on, they'll look up to him. They don't have any positive role models to look up to."

____Interview Highlights: Susan Trieschmann____

How the program is doing so far

"I think we've had 18 kids come through in our first year, and most of them are either job placed or in college or back in high school. We've lost a couple, but just a few, and some have rotated back twice already. But we haven't lost many to the justice system, which is our goal, is to keep them all out of the justice system. Most of our kids have had judicial contact or have been incarcerated."

Where the idea for the program came from

"I do restorative justice work, which is non-violent mediation, and I kept hearing a lot of kids say that if they just had jobs they wouldn't go through the system, they wouldn't get arrested. They just need jobs ... If they have a history, if they're African American, if they're uneducated, they have everything against them. So what I'm trying to do here with the help of a million volunteers is we're trying to build their life skills up so they have the confidence to try to get a job. They all come in saying they want to be dishwashers, and by the time they leave they want to be doctors or physicists or chemists. So it's pretty exciting, once they see what's out there and once they see they're capable of doing things."

The rewards of seeing her students go on to get jobs

"It feels wonderful. Every little success feels good though. Once we get a kid to commit to coming here and he makes it here three days in a row on time, that feels really good. We go on the little victories here. When a kid gets an interview and survives through it, that's a really good feeling. We have a student who got his own apartment. That felt amazing. We all were able to donate stuff so he could have a beautiful first apartment — probably better than my house. Every little victory here we celebrate because it's important. These kids have been held back for a long time."

____Interview Highlights: Pastor Corey Brooks____

On reducing violence by listening to kids

"A lot of these kids are angry, frustrated, depressed. They're trying to express their views the best way that they possibly can, but I don't think that people are listening to them as much as we should. We have to turn an ear toward them and be more attentive in affirming them so they can go on to be productive and have productive lives ... They want to to better, they just don't know how."

His take on Donzell Mintz

"I want to commend him because there are a lot of young men like him who come out of the system with felonies, and they go back to a life of crime, simply because they think that they cannot achieve, or that they cannot go on to be productive citizens. And so for Donzell to even believe that it's possible, that's where it starts. As long as he believes and keeps believing and keeps trying, ultimately he will succeed. But a lot of it has to do with the mentality of the person. If that person thinks that there's no chances, no opportunities for them, then they're going to act like there are no chances, no opportunities. But when a person believes that things can get better, that they can be successful, that they can make it, then their actions will show that, and that's exactly what we're seeing in Donzell. He believes that he can make it, and because he has that belief, I have no doubt that he's going to be OK."

How to address the violence in Chicago

"We have to all come together — parents, preachers, politicians, police — all of us working together to make sure that we solve this issue. We have to do what we can do in our territories, in our areas, to make sure that we make life better. I know here where we are, we're trying to collaborate and work with people by building a community center. And we believe that community center is going to help some children to be more successful and to succeed."


This segment aired on June 18, 2013.


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