The Search for Work Post Prison

The Search for Work Post Prison | Noah Bergland | construction2style

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This is cool – I don’t have to introduce myself anymore when starting a blog post as now I can be an author on a blog post (we weren’t allowed that while on the inside). If you’ve been following my journey, thank you. If you’re new, I’ll do a quick introduction. My name is Christopher Warren and I am friends with Noah. I met Noah in prison at Yankton, SD.   We hit it off, and he invited me to join him in writing for construction2style. I hope you’ve enjoyed my writing, and I can’t wait to see what we get to do together with resilience2reform.

If you’d like to rewind, here are a few of my previous posts on c2s: 

A Letter From a Fellow Inmate
Do you Count your Days in Prison
The Smell of Freedom

The Search for Work Post Prison | Noah Bergland | construction2style

So now here I am, in San Francisco and on the job hunt. 

The last time I applied for a job was in 2001.

I remember being referred by a friend who I had sold a GMC Denali. He got me the interview, which did not go so well. I was young, I did not have a degree, and I had two left feet. But I had a printed resume with not much on it and a lot of hunger to perform. I had left college and needed to justify the decision to myself.

The manager did not want to hire me. In fact, he told me so.

I repeatedly “followed up,” also known as stalking, calling and showing up at the sales floor for the mortgage company over and over again. I guess the strategy was simply to harass the poor man into pitying me. It eventually worked: he begrudgingly gave me a desk, a phone, and a “good luck.” It took a while for me to catch on, but I eventually found my groove, and things worked out.

Then came a career in finance. Then came my self-destruction. Then came eleven years of prison labor. Everything from driving forklifts to working as Noah’s assistant in the kitchen. Then came a re-entry back into society and the need to find a new job. 

So, here I am.

What I hear a lot is how things are different than they used to be. About how technology has changed everything, and it is all upside down. I’ve bee told I might even hear an ‘OK Boomer’ thrown my way even though I am 37. So I have been out seeing if that is the case. Once again, looking for work for the first time in almost two decades (after that last hire in 2001, I went from that firm to being self-employed until my prison bid started in 2009). Now that I am in an environment filled with businesses big (Google, Twitter, Salesforce) and small, there is plenty for me to learn, absorb, and witness. 

I have employed much of the same type of tactics I did in 2001. A lot of emailed resumes, cold calling employers, pounding the pavement, and a stack of printed resumes. I have hit everything from restaurants to retail clothiers to tech giants like Google.

Some potential employers have looked at my printed resumes in my hand and then look at me like I am crazy for bringing a printed resume. “Go to our website,” is almost the mantra-like response. Then, the one day I didn’t take my printed resume along because I have heard this so much, and a GNC manager asks me, “do you have a printed resume?” Sigh and smile.

I had the opportunity to visit Google this past week. That was fun. 

The Search for Work Post Prison | Noah Bergland | construction2style

While it was not quite the “Internship” that Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern shared, it was fun visiting their Market campus and enjoying lunch with an old friend. After having worked at a five hundred person campus for a large financial services firm, the Google culture is invigorating by comparison- even for a guest! It electrifies the air.  The people have a spirit to them that is positive, even contagious. The cafes were delicious, and the coffee store we retired to was laid back, chic, cool. I heard about the shift in business to analytics and big data, and which languages they used for machine learning. It was recommended that I shift from an MBA (I have completed 1/2 of my MBA) to an MS in Business Analytics. It was a wonderful visit and I left wondering if I could ever find that type of professional climate in a different field or firm. 

The Search for Work Post Prison | Noah Bergland | construction2style

Outside of the brief visit to Google, my discovery of the work environment has been interesting and entertaining.

The Search for Work Post Prison | Noah Bergland | construction2style

One encounter was a “test run” shift as a host at a restaurant. I have never worked in the hospitality business, but sales is hospitality in my view. All human interaction, to me, is encapsulated in communication.

Can we communicate with one another in a way that breeds positivity and value?

If we can, we can provide hospitality, or sales, or leadership, or defuse conflict on the prison yard.  Hosting was fun. It was a lot of people, both working in the restaurant and patrons, a lot of good energy and people enjoying life. This is such a shift for me as the last eleven years I have been around people mostly mad at life, bitter, angry, and just generally pissed off. Making people feel comfortable, happy, and enjoying a customer experience is something that I have always enjoyed doing.  The restaurant work is something I still might pursue further if I remain in the city for longer than anticipated.

As I review my growing number of interactions with employers and work teams, I reflect that while things have changed, they are the same.

While technology has changed the context and mediums for human interactions, I believe the fundamentals of our shared experience have not changed.

Kindness is still more appreciated than rudeness. 
Human goodness is still overcoming human evil.
Being face to face with a potential employer is still more effective than an email or note or Insta post. 

When people see my resume, they see nine years of work experience from 2000 to 2009, with no education. Then they see a lot of college work from 2010 to 2019. And then no current employer. So when computer algorithms parse and “machine learn” on my resume, it can get funky.

But let me shake a hand, smile, have a conversation. Build a relationship, no matter how temporary or transitionary. That stuff is human stuff. The good stuff. The stuff of redemptive living and second chances. 

I find that when people get over the awkwardness of the massive nature of my previous professional failure, we have a good interaction, even if it does not lead to a job offer or a mutual agreement. 

One thing the technology has done is to change the context of these interactions. The pace of life is faster; the number of interactions increased, the etiquette lower.  So as I continue to take steps out into my next professional life, I remind myself that I have the power to slow down the tech, to increase the humanness of my interactions, to communicate more effectively. It is easy to let the machine run the show, but I can remain more effective by staying rooted in the things humans share across cultures and time by being rooted in real, genuine human interaction.

These are the types of working relationships that  I am currently looking for.   I am confident that by bringing work ethic, personality, humility, and transparency back to reality from prison, I can succeed and contribute value to an organization that takes the chance on me. So here’s to getting back out there and pounding the pavement.

It’s changed, but it’s still the same.


From the outside, 

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