KOKOMO, Ind. — Lloyd Beets admits he has made mistakes. Some big ones. Like choosing to deal cocaine.
It was that mistake that landed the 33-year-old Kokomo native in prison for six years from 2006 to 2012. But instead of letting incarceration destroy his life, Beets decided to do something else with his time in prison.
He said he decided to "take lemons and make lemonade."
And that's what Beets has been trying to do since he was released from Miami Correctional Facility five years ago. Since then, he's gotten married, had a baby and landed a job working as an electrician.
Now, he wants to let others know that just because you get locked up, it doesn't have to ruin you. In fact, it could be one of the best things to happen to you - depending on how you choose to spend your time.
But, Beets said, one thing is certain after you leave prison. You're going to have to work harder than other people if you're living with a felony conviction on your record.
For Beets, that felony conviction came after he lost his job working at a hotel. By that time, he already had a baby and had dropped out of high school.
"I got a newborn now, and I want to make sure he was secure and protected," Beets said. "I had lost my job, so I resorted to selling drugs to put an extra penny in my pocket. I said, 'I'm gonna do this once, and then I'm through.'"
Beets was arrested in 2005 and incarcerated the next year. But before he even got to prison, he determined to make the best of it.
"My mindset the second I hit those prison doors was, 'I've got to get out of here and get home to my son,'" Beets said.
It was his son who motivated Beets to stay out of trouble and follow the rules. And it was his son who motivated him to start taking college courses from inside the prison walls.
At the same time, Beets got a job through the Indiana Department of Correction's Prison Enterprises Network, which employs offenders to make goods and provide services to state agencies and private businesses.
Every morning, Beets woke up and went to his job. Then from work, he would take college courses that eventually earned him a bachelor's degree in applied sciences with an emphasis on business technology.
"My time went pretty swift," Beets said. "The days started going by pretty fast. My day-to-day life was to get up, work, then school, and that carried on after I got out. There were a lot of skills I learned on the inside that a lot of inmates might not have been able to acquire."
Beets ended up getting out of prison earlier than he expected in 2012. He found an apartment thanks to a non-profit program he attended while incarcerated and started working two entry-level jobs to make ends meet.
But soon, Beets wanted more. He wanted to put his college degree to work at a good-paying job. So he decided to beef up his resume by taking extra training through Ivy Tech to earn certifications in skills related to manufacturing.
But, Beets said, despite his degree and training, some employers simply couldn't look past his felony conviction. He said at least two employers gave him an interview and said he was a great candidate. But when they learned he'd served time, they showed him the door.
"It's harder for felons," he said. "I know I have to work that much harder to get the job, so I want to be able to show employers that I have these certifications, but it's still tough sometimes . It starts to be heartbreaking."
Beets isn't alone in his struggle to find work with a felony. Men with criminal records account for about 34 percent of all nonworking men ages 25 to 54, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
Beets eventually stopped pursuing a job related to his degree. Instead, he enrolled in a trade school to become an electrician, and has worked in that field now for the last few years earning a decent wage.
Now, after living on the outside for five years trying to make the best of his situation, Beets said he's come to enjoy the little things in life.
"I get joy now just cutting the grass and watching the kids play out in the front yard. It makes me feel old," he said with a laugh.
But, Beets said, dealing with his felony conviction isn't over. He's still on probation, and he admits he's messed up since getting out of prison. Those mistakes have tacked on extra time he has to serve before completing the terms of his probation and getting out from under his criminal past.
Beets said he wants to put those mistakes behind him and continue to create a good life for his family. That's been the biggest motivation to stay out of trouble.
"Since I've come home, I've tried to make decisions based upon my son," he said. "I think, 'Is he going to benefit from this?' I can't even live for myself anymore. I'm living for my little ones. I've got a whole family to live for, so I try to keep things looking up."
And that's his advice to anyone trying to succeed after getting out of prison. Stay positive. Get a job. Go to school. But most importantly, stay active.
"Stay away from idle time, for real," Beets said. "After being incarcerated, idle time is a big thing for me. It depresses me. So stay around positive people."
And his message to employers who won't hire someone with a felony?
"Get time to get to know the individual," Beets said. "Even if you just give them a trial run or a probationary period. Give him time to see if he can keep up. Give him an opportunity. Give him a chance and get to know him."
Source: Kokomo Tribune
Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com