This is the third in a series profiling the professionals working with justice-involved individuals in honor of Second Chance Month. The important work they do is key to reintegration into the labor market and the fabric of society. Stacey Books is the Sr. Director of Growth & Development and the heart of Persevere, a national non-profit organization whose mission is to empower justice-involved men and women — as well as individuals at risk for justice involvement — to succeed as productive members of society. She is responsible for the day-to-day implementation and management of Persevere coding and employment programs within institutions and community agencies. Not only does Stacy have 17 years of experience in the human resources and management fields, but she is an ex-offender herself. She is committed to helping others move beyond their pasts to create successful futures for themselves. Stacey, tell us about the reentry work you do at Persevere. I have been with Persevere for 5 years as the Sr. Director of Growth & Development. Our non-profit organization teaches technology to individuals that have been impacted by the justice system — along with their children — in a holistic, wrap-around approach. Our goal is to change the lives of the entire family in hopes to reduce recidivism, mass incarceration, and provide safer communities. We want to provide them with hope and opportunity. What is the single biggest obstacle individual’s face when returning from incarceration? As a returning citizen myself, [I can say] you face many obstacles. Even though housing, transportation, and mental health are some of the biggest challenges, without job training and employment that allows someone to reach a self-sustaining livable wage ($50k or more annually), none of the other is possible. We need more employers that are willing to hire individuals based on their experience and workforce training rather than basing [hiring decisions] off of [an applicant’s] criminal background. This is not easy work; what motivates you? My motivation comes from my own experience. I have walked in their shoes. I am still walking in their shoes. I experienced trauma, abuse, mental health issues, attempted suicides, violation of probation; I served three years in the Tennessee Dept. of Corrections, but I refused to allow any of that determine my future. I spent those three years looking at the people around me: what needs did they have? I saw a lack of work experience, codependency, a lack of education, a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence — no hope! I was determined to use my 17 years of human resource, staffing, and workforce training experience to make a difference. When I see someone succeeding, that is a reminder that the long hours, the tears, the irritations — it was all worth it! We greatly appreciate the time Stacey took to answer our questions, and applaud the good work being done by Stacey and her colleagues at Persevere.