- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Micah “Bam-Bamm” White hasn’t worked a 9-to-5 job in 10 years, he said.

But the stand-up comedian and motivational speaker knows how to audition, which really is just a job interview, he told about 15 inmates at the Richmond City Justice Center.

White is one of 37 speakers who have visited the jail during the past month for video sessions that will be edited into an eight- to 10-hour, 17-part series preparing inmates for release.

The videos will cover topics including budgeting, probation, family reunification and housing options and will be available to every inmate 45 days before release.

Sarah Scarbrough, director of internal programs at the jail, developed the idea for the series after researching other re-entry programs and finding that most were outdated and singularly focused on a topic such as probation or job preparation.

Scarbrough runs the REAL - Recovering from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles - program at the jail, but she wanted a resource for every inmate, men and women, that addresses every question they might have about starting life anew.

The video series will be available at no cost to the jail. The $7,500 production cost, already a discounted rate, will be covered by REAL Life, a nonprofit arm of the REAL program, which helps inmates after release.

White intermittently holds a job-preparation course in the jail called RCJC Has Talent, culminating in a talent show. On Thursday, he spoke to a group of male inmates about how to conduct themselves during a job interview.

“When you get out of here, the more time you spend doing something productive, the less time you have to go out and do something stupid,” he said.

He encouraged them to be confident - even if they’ve been turned down previously.

“Bring that charm, bring that charisma, bring that swag. Show that you are bigger than your past,” White said. “You probably have more doubt than hope, because you’ve heard more no’s than yeses.”

White said the biggest obstacle faced by ex-offenders or felons is the stigma attached to incarceration.

“The stupidity of people who have never been in this situation who think they are less than,” he said.

Almost as important as finding a job is finding something they love to occupy the remainder of their time. White said the thing they love - for him, it’s comedy - might not earn them any money, but it will keep them inspired.

“If you don’t do something in your personal life that you care about, you won’t care about losing that job,” he said. “Two reasons I didn’t get locked up: one, I didn’t get caught; two, I found something that I loved.”

Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren, co-directors and owners of Field Studio in Richmond, are producing the video series.

They recently finished a yearlong project, Richmond Justice, examining the justice system in Virginia’s capital through individuals whose lives have been shaped by it. It’s on display through March 17 at the University of Richmond Downtown Gallery.

“The whole project made us aware of all the obstacles that people have when they exit the doors,” Ayers said.

The husband-and-wife duo kept in touch with Scarbrough, whom they met and profiled for their earlier project. When Scarbrough pitched the idea of making the re-entry series, the filmmakers jumped at the chance and offered the reduced price.

There are resources in Richmond and surrounding communities for the former inmates, Ayers said, but the goal of the series is to capture all that information in one place.

“This program is really filling a gap,” Ayers said.

Warren hopes their work will inspire some “civic muscle” or a city-led program for people exiting the jail, so they do not wind up there again.

___

Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.timesdispatch.com

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