Unique partnership helps put offenders back to work
Terry Davis has learned over several decades working in the adult-probation field that ex-offenders need to work to have any chance of success.
“Because once you can teach a guy that he can work, earn the money and build up self-esteem, you help him realize it’s a lot better to go to work than get chased by cops because he did something wrong,” said Davis, owner and CEO of Keystone Correctional Services Inc.
His correctional facility in West Hanover Township is taking a big step forward in that effort under a new three-way partnership between his facility, the nonprofit Vision Resources of Central Pennsylvania and southern Lancaster County’s Inglenook Tile Design LLC.
Using a large kiln installed in Keystone’s basement, Keystone and Vision Resources have collaborated since December to make ceramic tile products for Inglenook, a family-owned brick tile manufacturer.
Keystone Correctional is a for-profit facility for male offenders pending their release from prison. It also houses men who have violated parole. It provides the workers, Vision Resources pays the men a salary to produce tiles, Inglenook pays Vision Resources for the finished products, and Vision Resources gets income to sustain its mission.
And Davis moves a step closer to his goal of keeping his men from returning to prison.
Getting offenders back in society
Davis houses up to 150 men in the basement of his secure facility on Allentown Boulevard, all in one large room divided into small military-style pods. The basement room adjoins the room where the brick tiles are made.
Davis, who turned 67 on Valentine’s Day, is the retired director of probation for Dauphin County and spent 35 years in adult probation and parole. He hopes the new tile-making venture teaches his men many of the nuts and bolts of running a business.
“I want them to know the details. Because if you start your own business, you don’t have to worry about someone not liking you” because you’re a former inmate, he said. “And you can be successful as your own boss.”
Davis is a board member at Vision Resources, which has a $3 million budget and the same challenges of raising funds that all nonprofits face, said its executive director, Danette Blank. Vision Resources provides job training and other services to the blind and visually impaired.
The money Vision Resources makes from the tile production goes back into paying for its services, Blank said. About 80 percent of its revenue is self-generated, with the rest coming from state and United Way funding, private contributions and other sources.
“It’s a complete circle that works for everyone,” Blank said. “The men (at Keystone) sometimes have a difficult time finding employment, and this is something that makes money for a nonprofit,” said Blank, who has some 20 full-time employees and nearly 100 overall.
How partnership was formed
Blank got a call last year from Lancaster-based VisionCorps, which had a similar partnership with Inglenook that it was not able to continue. Officials in the Lancaster organization’s office asked Blank, whose agency serves Dauphin, Cumberland, Franklin and Perry counties, if it wanted to take on the partnership with Inglenook.
Davis, at the same time, was telling Blank how he had long wanted a manufacturing job opportunity in his facility, Blank said. “We saw this as a way of really helping those guys at the same time as providing me with employees,” she said.
Inglenook founder and owner Julie Good-Kruger is hopeful that her company’s partnership with Vision Resources and, by extension, Keystone, will benefit everyone.
Under the partnership with VisionCorps, Good-Kruger’s brick tiles had been handmade using a kiln at a facility outside of Philadelphia. The kiln was recently taken by professional movers from its old location to Keystone. It had to be taken apart and reassembled when it arrived because it was too large to fit inside one of the doors, Blank and Davis recalled.
Good-Kruger bought the kiln when she founded the tile business, which she started after an earlier career in the doll-making industry. She eventually sold her doll-making business, Good-Kruger Dolls, to a collectibles manufacturer.
She went to work for the manufacturer but was laid off in 2004, which is when she decided to pursue the design and manufacturing of tiles.
Good-Kruger handles the design and product development, and is confident that “the door is wide open” for future growth at Inglenook.
The director of development and public relations for Vision Resources, Paul Zavinsky, called the three-way business partnership “one of the most unique and mutually beneficial relationships I’ve ever seen in my time in development. It’s going to benefit us by raising revenue, so we can pay for our mission as a nonprofit, and he (Davis) has always wanted a business where his residents could learn and take a skill outside of here and turn their lives around.”
Zavinsky spoke at a Feb. 2 open house at Keystone where leaders of the businesses showed guests details of the kiln and tile-making operation.
'Thinking outside the box'
One of the guests, David Black, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp., called it a positive, “interesting partnership — good for both parties” in his area.
Davis and his staff of 40, including 10 full-timers, obviously “really care about getting residents in their facility placed, or getting them relevant job training,” Black said.
“I think the other lesson here, for any type of business given the constant issue of available workforce, is this example of thinking outside the box a bit,” Black added. “The residents at Keystone want to work, want to get their lives back on track and have varying skill sets that probably would be useful to many businesses. It’s another source for workers that we would encourage businesses to explore.”