- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

There was a time when Kevin Mayfield supplemented his income with drug dealing, but after 20 years in prison, these days he says the best hustle is having a job.

The 49-year-old Department of Public Works (DPW) employee credits Project Empowerment, a group that helps hundreds of D.C. ex-offenders find jobs every year, with providing him with the tools he needed to make sure he never goes back.

With the recent firing of the director of the Department of Employment Services and a policy debate looming over Project Empowerment’s future, Mr. Mayfield says city leaders ought to think carefully before they meddle with a program that is working.

“When I came out of prison, I knew I would never sell drugs again,” said Mr. Mayfield, convicted of murder in 1987. “But Project Empowerment helped me to think positive, helped me with my attitude and to be successful in life.”

Mr. Mayfield sipped iced tea in a Northeast Washington delicatessen after work on Monday and recalled his return home from prison in 2007. The 1980 graduate of Calvin Coolidge Senior High School said it was a snowy day and that several people on Project Empowerment’s waiting list did not show up, bumping his name up on the list. He went through a three-week program, in which he received training in hygiene, personal appearance, manner and presentation - basic interviewing skills - and was sent out on a few jobs to see if there was a good fit.

He first worked for DPW on the leaf-removal crew, but expressed a desire to work with children, so he was hired at the city’s Youth Services Center, an intake facility for youth offenders. When DPW called him back for another leaf season, Mr. Mayfield said he “prayed on it” and returned, in part because it offered a higher salary.

In October 2008, he became a permanent employee and now works on the streets and alleys cleaning crew. He says his $17.50 per hour job helps him to support his ailing mother, his wife and his 21-year-old daughter.

“It’s one of the best programs the city has,” Mr. Mayfield said of Program Empowerment, whose director Charles Jones was recently fired by one of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s political appointees, Rochelle Webb, who now has been fired as well. “You need to know you got something to keep you out of trouble.”

Mr. Mayfield said he estimates 40 percent of his friends didn’t make it out the criminal life he once led. He stays in touch with Project Empowerment by giving talks at orientation, he said, and has a goal of becoming a supervisor at DPW one day.

He says it wasn’t easy at first. “Some people don’t think $7 an hour is good enough for them,” he said. “But you gotta crawl before you can walk. And you gotta want this.”

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