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RecycleForce helps save earth, reduces violence in Indianapolis

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An Indianapolis non-profit is saving the earth — and its employees’ lives – through its focus on helping formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter society. 

RecycleForce is a local nonprofit organization and social enterprise, committed to reducing violence and recidivism by hiring those re-entering society after being incarcerated and providing them with social support, job placement and training.

David Thomas is one employee about to finish RecycleForce’s program.

In his five months working with RecycleForce, he has completed a 10-hour OSHA safety course and is currently working to obtain a cybersecurity certificate. Thomas said the organization is “like a family,” and credits the organization for helping him establish himself after a decade-long stint with law enforcement and most recently serving two years in prison.

“When I got out, I got out in one pair of pants that I wore, which were too small,” Thomas said. “And same dirty boots … in a dirty wife beater. Man, it was horrible.” 

Through the program, Thomas has received assistance with housing, assistance in getting his driver’s license reinstated, budgeting and opening bank accounts, including a savings account — something he said he’s never had before.

Since 2006, RecycleForce has employed nearly 1200 people like Thomas, providing certifications and training in 15 federal certifications in lead and asbestos removal, mold elimination, testing and analyzing samples and handling emergency remediation.

RecycleForce partners with adult education programs and Ivy Tech to help students get their high school equivalency diploma and continued education certifications. Students in the RecycleForce program have multiple career paths to choose from, and the decision is ultimately up to them.

Each year, more than 600,000 people are released from state and federal prisons, while another nine million cycle through local jails, according to recent numbers by the federal government.

But leaving incarceration doesn’t necessarily mean a return to normalcy. Systematic and officially sanctioned barriers cause more than two-thirds of people to be rearrested within three years of their release, according to the National Institute of Justice.

Every morning at eight, employees gather in an area tucked in a corner of the warehouse of recyclable materials, said Crista Carlino, director of development and communications. It’s a safe place where employees can decompress and share stories, including traumatic ones, free of judgment.

“We’re not looking back because we’re not going back,” the group recites every morning.
Thomas served two years in prison for a distribution conviction. After incarceration, Thomas said he didn’t feel like he had the support he needed. That’s changed with RecycleForce.

The difference, Thomas said, and the thing that keeps him “off the streets,” is the organization — the morning circle time, the structure, the sense of comradery, the forgiveness, the understanding.

“Everything’s cool. They treat you like family here. I haven’t seen this much love,” Thomas said. “I don’t have to look in other places for it. Like when I started selling, everybody wants to be your friend, but they just gave me love for nothing. What really made me feel like, ‘Yo, ain’t no looking back because you don’t want to go back’ — we say that every morning. What made me really feel that was RecycleForce.” 

The U.S. Department of Labor researched RecycleForce’s effect on recidivism and found that the program reduced participant recidivism by 6.2% and participants were able to support themselves and their families. By reducing recidivism, RecycleForce saved the Indianapolis community more than $4,000 in taxpayer savings.

With revenue generated from their recycling business, where anything from electronics to metals are recycled, the organization helps train its employees in how to clean-up hazardous waste and respond to environmental emergencies. Once products are broken down at RecycleForce, they’re sent to different processors and distributors throughout the state, keeping the economic flow here in Indiana.

Contact staff writer Jayden Kennett at 317-762-7847 or jaydenk@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @JournoJay.

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