Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev

Employment After Incarceration with Mikel Miller and Samantha Sherrell Cross

December 26, 2022 Kosta Yepifantsev Season 2 Episode 49
Employment After Incarceration with Mikel Miller and Samantha Sherrell Cross
Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev
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Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev
Employment After Incarceration with Mikel Miller and Samantha Sherrell Cross
Dec 26, 2022 Season 2 Episode 49
Kosta Yepifantsev

Join Kosta and his guests: Mikel Miller Recovery2Work Employment Manager and Samantha Sherrell Cross, President of Encompass Manufacturing.

Today we’re talking about Recovery2Work, Second Chance Employment and how businesses can enrich and diversify their workforce by providing employment opportunities to those formerly incarcerated.

In this episode: How Recovery2Work is addressing the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery, the greatest benefits and challenges of utilizing this program as an employer and why it's imperative to provide opportunities to grow professionally in order to break the cycle of addiction and incarceration.

Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev is a product of Morgan Franklin Media and recorded in Cookeville, TN.

Find out more about Recovery2Work:
https://ucdd.org/economicdevelopment/recovery2work/

Find out more about Kosta and all the ways we're better together:
http://kostayepifantsev.com/

Show Notes Transcript

Join Kosta and his guests: Mikel Miller Recovery2Work Employment Manager and Samantha Sherrell Cross, President of Encompass Manufacturing.

Today we’re talking about Recovery2Work, Second Chance Employment and how businesses can enrich and diversify their workforce by providing employment opportunities to those formerly incarcerated.

In this episode: How Recovery2Work is addressing the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery, the greatest benefits and challenges of utilizing this program as an employer and why it's imperative to provide opportunities to grow professionally in order to break the cycle of addiction and incarceration.

Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev is a product of Morgan Franklin Media and recorded in Cookeville, TN.

Find out more about Recovery2Work:
https://ucdd.org/economicdevelopment/recovery2work/

Find out more about Kosta and all the ways we're better together:
http://kostayepifantsev.com/

Mikel Miller:

A second chance employment can change everything, especially for the ones that are coming out of incarceration that are coming out of off the streets because again, they've been invisible, they have not been considered part of the workforce.

Morgan Franklin:

Welcome to Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev, a podcast on parenting business and living life intentionally. We're here every week to bring you thoughtful conversation, making your own path to success, challenging the status quo, and finding all the ways we're better together. Here's your host, Kosta Yepifantsev.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Hey, y'all, this is costly. And today, I'm here with my guest, Michael Miller, recovery to work employment manager and Samantha Cheryl Krause president of encompass manufacturing. Today, we're talking about recovery to work, Second Chance employment, and how businesses can enrich and diversify their workforce by providing employment opportunities to those formerly incarcerated. So Michael, what resources and services does recovery to work offered to individuals in recovery? And how do these support their transition back into employment?

Mikel Miller:

Recovery to work is built around a client centric model, we attach a certified peer recovery specialist to each and every client. And literally we're walking with them. I mean, we meet them exactly where they're at. So if there is mental health situations that we need to address, we try to connect them with mental health treatment med management, we have clinic clinicians on staff that can help us with some of those things. We also work with, let's say, hi, set G days if needed, or connecting to education. Most people, they'll come to us and they just need a job. We work with them to get them a job as fast as possible. But we never give up on dreams and aspirations.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

How hard is it to find them a job is getting

Mikel Miller:

easier. To be perfectly honest, the buzzword is stigma. That's a word that gets used a lot. But I like to really talk about the word grace, we've got some pretty cool partners that show a lot of grace to our folks. And you know, give them an opportunity to not feel judged, but to feel included. And so we're seeing a lot of growth that way. But it's not as hard as you think, you know, large corporations are obviously harder and getting them educated and as adopters to the process. But for the most part, we were having a lot of luck.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

So we're going to talk more about that stigma later on in the show. But before we get to that, Samantha, what does the path of someone going through the recovery to Work program look like? Versus someone trying to manage recovery and Second Chance employment on their own?

Samantha Sherrell:

I think that's a great question. So the different starts as early as the interview, right? So they walk in, and they're going to feel comfortable, they know that this is something that we specialize in, they do not have to be nervous about big gaps that are in their resume. And we can have these hard conversations and they can say, hey, you know, I was incarcerated during this time period. And I know that that's okay. So that makes them feel comfortable. From the very start. I think we also provide a lot of services and just really make accommodations for them that other businesses might not be willing to do. And so we're there if they need help with something in their personal life, we're there to make accommodations for them to go to court or to have to be able to talk to their probation officer during business hours, just really a lot of things that are different. We've really just reworked things in a way that's accommodating to them.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

When did you decide to start working with this population? And I mean, you've really committed a lot of resources to this effort.

Samantha Sherrell:

Yeah, we've been really intentional about working with this population for probably about four years now. And it has been such a blessing the whole time, there's been so many learning experiences, but overall, I would say it's been such a blessing.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Yeah. Have you ever had an experience where like, for example, you employ somebody, and they start out really, really great. And then within like, 90 days, they have a relapse, you know, or something like that. And the reason that I asked that question is because when I talk to a lot of people that work with addiction and recovery, they always say it's a journey. It's not like a short term thing. It's not like, hey, 90 days, I'm clean for 90 days, and I'm good. No, no, it's like a lifelong journey. And so four years ago, when you made the commitment to walk the road with these individuals who are formerly incarcerated or are battling addiction, do you say for example, allow them to go to rehab, get clean, and then come back into employment afterwards?

Samantha Sherrell:

Absolutely, if that's something that they need to do, absolutely. Yes, it has definitely been a journey of I can remember being pregnant and calling my husband and being like, I'm going to get this girl. She left me a voicemail and she fell off the wagon and she said that she's at a trap house in Murfreesboro, and I've got to go get her and he's like, um, I think you might need to slow down a little bit there, honey, you know, and so he can At least, that's right, you got to talk me through some of those things. And you know, there are so many resources in our area that when we started this, I really didn't know were available for people. And so I was out here and people would come to me and need help housing. And I'd be calling my friends that have apartment saying, Hey, I know you've got these apartments, I've got this girl that has no credit, and she's got a felony, and all these things, do you have anything? You know, what can you do for her because she comes to work every day. And she is trying to get her kids back and all of these things. And so before I got connected with my amazing friend who's here today, there are a lot of things that we were just trying to provide as services on our own. And so we were not aware as the business of all the different programs and opportunities and things that are available for people who are in this population and who are going through this. And so I think, yes, it has definitely been a journey to answer your question. Definitely.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

So Michael, the most impactful opportunity for someone in recovery isn't just finding a job, it's breaking the cycle. Explain to us exactly what that means.

Mikel Miller:

No one is going to make it until they're there at their personal bottom, they've got to reach a spot where they're so physically, emotionally, they're just done without that knowledge that they can't do this anymore. That's the first step. We get a lot of folks that go, they'll come in and they'll say, hey, yeah, but you know, they still want to hold a little bit onto that world. And we usually can identify that right off the bat, what works with recovery. And you know, most people miss this part is recovery is peer based. So 12 step meetings are going walking in the door, and you never walk into a room without being comfort, because everyone in that room is just like you, right? So whether it's an empty room or in a room or a faith based room, or whatever, the power comes in the room. And it comes by pressing and and leaning into people just like you people that are either a day ahead of you a year ahead of you, or whatever we all share experience, strength and hope. And once we start to get that, you know, into an individual to understand that man, there's always going to be this demon on their shoulder screaming, hey, it's easier to get high than to deal with this stuff. But to get the support that they need in a community of recovery, that's huge. Now, the wonderful part is now you can take an add to that then employers, that's huge. Samantha accidentally, let's go back to her question for a second. Shantha called me one time, she is pretty well freaked out about a young man that was employed and he went dark. And that just means you know exactly what you think he reentered into his addiction. Well, she's like, Do you have any way to find him? Or reach out to him? Well, yeah, I mean, that's some of the stuff we know how to do. Right, we're able to find out that he was in recovery in a senator. And I was instantly able to call her and put her mind at ease, because her amount of compassion and empathy towards her employees is absolutely amazing. And she wears that with her. She's very invested personally. So I think that's part of it, too. You know, we we need more folks, just like Samantha and encompass to jump up with us,

Kosta Yepifantsev:

it's very uncommon. Most people aren't going to take the time, especially like people that are business owners are not going to take the time, because they're also worried about like, the other 15 hats that you're probably wearing. You know what I mean? That's why I'm so intrigued by how you've sort of built this infrastructure to support individuals who were formerly incarcerated. I got to ask, though, Michael, if somebody doesn't find employment, can they ever achieve recovery?

Mikel Miller:

It's a really loaded question. The walk is so customer, we adapt to the individual, there are some folks that have been out there so long, and the amount of trauma if we don't get mental health attached to this on those in those cases. So most of the time, if somebody is unable to work, it's because we've got something else attached to it. So we have to work on that part, we need to connect them to, you know, treatment and or even just ongoing mental health care. But thankfully, we actually have some good services in the upper Cumberland that are grant based, so even if they have no money, we can get them attached to services, med management, etc. It's the journey, I mean, and we're going to attach somebody to walk this with them, you know, if they're incapable of actually working, then obviously we're going to connect them with services that will support that. But the mental health side of of this is is huge. And as long as we're always keeping them attached to learning who they are and what their potential is. I love to say dream big, because it's just it's true. And if we can keep pushing the fact that their future is still attainable, I think that what helps us cheerleaders Yeah, and you just got to be a champion for their costs. And that's what my friend here does a whole lot of is champion for, you know, the causes of

Kosta Yepifantsev:

and you've been a part of this organization for a year. Little over Yeah. Okay. Do you feel like we have the resources available in terms of dealing with the mental health crisis in our area,

Mikel Miller:

I think that we have for the size of the area, we are understanding to that I represent all the upper Cumberland, all 14 counties, we have quality resources here. Connecting the Dots sometimes is hard. If you're dealing with somebody out of county, one of our rural counties, it's been a bit of a stretch to work on getting them the transportation they need for those appointments. But because we have a regional bus system at UC HRA, we are now building some ways to get them we're using CPRS as having them get their F endorsement and get them driver train. So if we've got a MySQL in this journey that doesn't fit into a normal bus route, or into some sort of normal piece, we're building right around it, we are going to build a system that can be you know, tell everybody, when you work in recovery, you work 24/7, there's no way around that. Because there's just so many elements that go along with it that I mean, a person could be clean and sober. And they have a territory one night, and they think they've been using it and they're freaking out. And it's two o'clock in the morning. And the best thing to do is go take them out for a cup of coffee. And if that's what phone call is all about, that's what we'll do. So there's just a lot of pieces to this thing. It's a definitely a huge commitment. But for the most part, I find one way or another I can get folks in mental health if they need mental health health. And one

Samantha Sherrell:

of the things about Michael Is he really doesn't take no for an answer. And that's something that I admire and look up to him. And I think in his role, he's been able to say, Okay, this may have been the way that we were doing things prior, but we're gonna find a way to make this work for the people who need our help. And that's just amazing and a blessing to our community as well. For sure.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Yeah. How'd you guys meet? It's like a match made in heaven here. Like, I mean, was it by happened chance, was it when you started working?

Mikel Miller:

I think I reached out, I had heard that encompass was hiring, that they were doing some things in the community. And I was still trying to line up partners, let's just be honest, when I was handed this grant to start, there was zero, there was nothing so at all, nothing. No, it never been done here. And so I was handed a project and said, Hey, we know your background. I'm an entrepreneur. And I also have a guy in recovery. So I kind of can check the boxes a bit. And so when I first started reaching out to stop calling employers the other thing, as you know, I had some history working in a treatment facility also. And I learned early on that the stories in the outlying counties wasn't with the most work needed to be done. So I built it backwards. I went out to those counties and identified what wasn't being done and how we could provide those services. But then I met Miss Samantha here. And you know, it was I remember the first conversation because she was still with child at that moment. And she was like, I am looking forward to meeting you. I'm so excited. But I don't want to be around people to like give birth, because COVID is real. Yeah. But ever since then, it's weird. It's just funny how it's serendipitous. As far as everything our mind structure as far as how we reach people, how we handle folks, and how that all works out, Hey, I could use probably another could use 20 or 30 of Samantha all around in a you know, in some places just to help us out well. And

Kosta Yepifantsev:

that's kind of what I was going to ask is like, are your relationships with other employees similar to the relationships that you have with Samantha? Like, do you have the same level of enthusiasm from those business owners?

Mikel Miller:

Yeah, I've got another couple in town here that are very, very involved. Okay, they don't have quite the amount of need, but then like Hutchinson up in Livingston area, they've become very, very supportive. Yeah, we've been we've actually created a bus route, a shared vein kind of thing to get people from putting them up there and back, because, you know, we want to make sure that we can help the employers. And the reality is, is that, you know, we work with people that are invisible, that have not been on censuses that have not been on roles, because they've either been displaced or they've been incarcerated. And the reality is, so many of them want a chance. Well, what employers don't realize right off the bat is if they're willing to work like Samantha with those meetings, and with POS coming by, or whatever, random drug screens or whatever, you start invest, and then those folks and you start, you support those things. The reality in the end is they make their way through what the court mandates and the things that they're having to do with the support of an employer, the loyalty and the retention is that much stronger.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Do you ever work with individuals who were formerly incarcerated for violent crimes?

Mikel Miller:

I have to be careful with how I answer that. Okay. The truth of the matter is this. Yes,

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I do. any different than individuation? Well, well, here's

Mikel Miller:

the thing, okay. When somebody is high, or they're out on the street, they just kind of do whatever they got to do to stay high. So does violent crime come along with that or distribution or manufacturer or whatever? Yeah. So yes, I do. But you see, that's where this whole thing comes in at if we have the opportunity to talk with an employer and say, Listen, this is on their record. But I can also tell you, they're strung out on this, and they've been on the street for this long. And the person that I'm going to introduce you to is not the person that shows up on their background check. And if we can get people to understand that, because the chemistry that's involved right now, with all of this crazy stuff on the street, is messing with the brain so bad that people just they don't even know what they're up to. And let's just be honest, it's a cycle that you as you hear so much of is leading to more death every day. And the reality is, is that I mean, heck, now you can go into a gas station, they know that, hey, this doesn't is this and this. And this, if you find these two things, man, I'm gonna get this.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Yeah, I was reading an article the other day, actually, that there was some drug that you can just pick up some, like, concoction of some kind, and it mimics the effects of an opioid. And it's literally like, hey, walk into a gas station and buy it. And it's, it's terrifying for me that that type of stuff is not being more regulated. And you would think it would be but the State's

Mikel Miller:

got education systems, you know, things out there right now talking about it, but no, you see, because they've learned that they manufactured just on this side of legal right, then it's okay, but what they don't talk about how is if you put this A with B, and the street understands these things, and they speak, you know, I worked over at one of the treatment facilities for a while. And I used to look at one of the windows at a gas station straight across the street. And all I could think of is how many different ways they could leave today and walk there Panhandle off enough money to be high in minutes. You know, that's a gas station. Man. That's your right. That's, that's kind of harsh. That's, we really need to just get a handle on those types of things that much more, because if an individual can get it, so can kids.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Yeah. Samantha, from an employer's perspective, what are the greatest benefits, but also challenges of utilizing this program?

Samantha Sherrell:

Let's start with the challenges. The first thing you need to do is really work around your business constraints and say, How can I be accommodating to this group of people. And so you've got to think through kind of the things that they are going through and the things that they're up against as well being part of while still being justice involved, basically. So looking at business constraints is part of it. And then also, I think one of the other challenges that's unique that I hear from a lot of businesses is Hey, what are my other employees gonna think about this? Oh, yeah. And so you know, that kind of goes along with stigma, like we're talking about later. But I think you might be surprised at how accepting and understanding your employees will be after they get to know people, right? So they might have this concern up front, like, what is this going to be like? And what are these people going to be like, but then they're going to meet these people and understand that they're not the same as what's on their background check. Exactly. Like Michael was saying, you know, they're a person who made a decision, you know, that if you were faced with the exact same thing that they were going through at that point in their in their life, you may have made that exact same decision, when you don't know that because you haven't been in their situation. That's a challenge. But I tell all the businesses, you know, our team was so welcoming, and so encouraging, and they were amazing. And so that's something, you know, to kind of ease that concern. The biggest challenge is what we mentioned earlier, you are going to see some people who fall off the wagon, right? And that's always going to have a huge impact. But that being said, I think you also have to look at the amount of people that are being successful, right? Like, we have so many people who are doing amazing. Yeah. And so I can't let that overshadow the ones that have a really hard time. That's part of it. When somebody does have a hard time, you have to ask yourself a really difficult question of, is there anything that our environment at work did to contribute to this? Like the stress of it? Yes. And is there anything that we can do better in the future to make sure that we're providing people an environment that's safe for their recovery?

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Have you ever had to fire anybody that, you know, as part of this program that you just said, one chance to chance? Okay, I can,

Samantha Sherrell:

um, well, that's kind of a loaded question as well. You know, I think we focus on meeting them where they're at before it gets to that. And so before it gets to that, you know, I'm going to come to someone and say, Hey, what's going on outside of work? Like, is there something that we can help you with? You know, are you having a problem at home, how's everything going? And I'm gonna reach out to the other organizations that we work with, and I'm gonna reach out to Michael, and I'm gonna say, Hey, I'm seeing some things that are a little concerning, you know, what can we do about this person? And hopefully, before we ever get to that point, we're gonna get some intervention and get that person some help. And

Kosta Yepifantsev:

so Michael, how does that conversation typically go? I mean, it's candid, right?

Mikel Miller:

Oh, yeah. Everything I do is incredibly candid. I learned a long time ago. If you don't hit it straightforward. They're going to try to manipulate you one way or another. So if that situation arises is space tickly one of the things Okay, where are we at what's going on? You know, I need to know, I always love to reemphasize the fact that this is a program of honesty. Almost anybody that's an addiction knows exactly how to manipulate the situation so they can stay right where they want to be, which is high. So we start with owning it, hey, you know, and so if they're like, well, it's not like that. I'm like, Well, wait a minute, you want to take a urine test? You want to be good drug testers, and we so we can make? Well, you know, I might have well, let's just talk again. So yes, it's very candid. And as Samantha said, if it's one of those things, where we would have to move them into treatment, again, we would, it's not always that though, sometimes it's just a stressor, you know, it's just a failed relationship. You know, the hardest part about early recovery, as we tell people look at this 100% on you, your spouse, if you're married, or your children, they can't have you until you put 100% into you, right, and we figure you out. And so we'd love to tell people look, get a plant, and at the end of the year, if you kept it alive, die, love it. But the, that's the truth, you know, we'd need to have them understanding. The other thing that's hard and is a balance is money, you know, they get going and all sudden, they start making money and they've got extra money, well, you know, what they wanted to do with all their extra money or all their money. So helping them stay focused on those things, too, is also very hard.

Samantha Sherrell:

I think as far as benefits, gosh, there's so many, I don't even know where to start. So kind of like we mentioned earlier, you're gonna have the most loyal and dedicated people that are really thankful to have an opportunity. And with that comes, you know, pride in their work, and just an open dialogue, that they know that they can come to us if they need help with something. And so that's a blessing, but also what a joy it is to be able to see people advance at work. And it's even more of a joy to be able to see them get on the right track in their personal life. So you know, when somebody comes in, and it's like, I finally bought a car, look, it's in the parking lot, you know, and that's so exciting for them. And that's exciting for us too. And even more so when people have been with us for a while. And they're going through the process of getting their children back. And you have to think as a as a local business owner, wow, this is really impacting the community, because you giving them an opportunity was the first step. Well, not the first step. But it was one of the steps that was critical to them, being able to support themselves and then in turn, support their family. It's a small thing, it feels like a really small thing, you know, a job an opportunity, but it's going to have a big impact on our community.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

When you're talking to friends or other business owners, colleagues, whatever classification you want to get, do they understand what you're saying? Like do they get the benefits of having an employee that's extremely loyal, that's extremely efficient, that will do their job well, but comes with a lot of baggage, do they get it?

Samantha Sherrell:

I think so. You know, I'm pretty enthusiastic when I talk about it. So you know, when I talk to a business, I'm going to be really truthful. And so when we have a conversation about the challenges, I'm going to tell you all about the challenges, but also the benefits. And it just really, it's hard to find people that are loyal, you know, and it's hard to find people that take good pride in their work, and they just really appreciate the opportunity. And so I think it's just such a blessing and you know, even other people that work with us, and are not a part of this program that come and say, I'm so glad that we're doing this, like I'm so glad I'm so proud that we're doing this. And that's really cool, too. So, yeah, I think so

Kosta Yepifantsev:

what percentage of your workforce are formerly incarcerated?

Samantha Sherrell:

You know, Morgan asked me that before? That's a great question. Let me look at that and get back to you. Because to be honest, after they've been with us for a while, I mean, we don't keep up with it like that. We really don't. I mean, they're, they are a part of our team, they do an amazing job. Everyone does an amazing job. And so we don't really think about it like that. Can I

Kosta Yepifantsev:

tell you guys something that may or may not blow your mind. We employ individuals who have at times some some form of criminal background. We have obviously limitations, we can employ people that have felonies, but some of those individuals may have had the record expunged. And I think after seven years, you can have your felony removed. But I think there's obviously other caveats to that. So here's what's crazy. All right. So we employ individuals who have had some issues in the past, specifically with substance abuse 90% of clients that we serve under 10 care, have a prescription for some type of opioid. So we bring in the reason that I'm telling you this is because I just want to show you the parallels of like an environment that would probably work extremely well. And something that we still have a ways to go in terms of the healthcare space or the long term care space. So we put them in an environment where they're working and they're caring for somebody very close very personally. And then all of those demons that you were talking about on their shoulder, start talking And I mean, it happens so often where somebody relapses. And here's the reason why I bring the story up. Just because somebody relapse does not mean that they're not a human being anymore. But the majority of clients, family members, people that manage the system, whether it's TennCare, or managed care, whatever it might be insurance companies, they don't want anything to do with it. As soon as somebody makes a mistake, and they may take somebody's medication, or they may borrow some money from a client, because they have yet to become established, they get written off. I hope, that recovery to work builds in those types of dynamics to prevent people from falling off and staying away from employment and getting their life back together.

Mikel Miller:

The reality of it is this when they write them off, what else they got to do, they've been trying everything, they've spent months and months or even a few years just getting their life together, and a judgment call or a hiccup, boom, they're gone. Now, listen, they don't have any value. But they've done everything they've been told to do. So what else would they do? Yeah, so I mean, that's, it's hard, I want us to just say this, you know, a diabetic doesn't choose to be a diabetic, they're born that way. So are addicts, you know, and people don't understand that it is a disease, it is something that has to be managed. And it takes a lot of work to get an individual to a point of where they can be reintroduced in some of these areas. But you know, no different than taking your medicine and checking your blood as a diabetic, a person in recovery is fighting those same types of things. It's invisible, you know, you're gonna talk about stigma a little bit. And mental health has got all kinds of stigma, you know, and they attach it to a bunch of different things. But the reality is an EN, addiction is a disease when someone's trying their best. And then all of a sudden, they're blacklisted from something. And they're just basically made to feel that their utter failure, then why not just go spin out? And why bother? It's just not worth it.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Are we making progress as a society to turn that around to turn that stigma around?

Mikel Miller:

There's a lot of initiatives out there to do these things. I think there's forward momentum, you know, motion, I really gotta believe that. It's conversations that have to just keep going trainings to I mean, you got law enforcement that's starting to get some more trainings towards these types of things. We're seeing collaborative efforts with let's say, CPRS is and police departments, we have one through the UC HRA with city of Cookeville, where we're able to, you know, instead of just incarcerating we can look at options to help with some of those things. And we're going to need to do more like that. And I'm gonna be honest, man, they got this opioid settlement money coming down. And the reality is, we have an opportunity to really do some amazingly strong things in in all of these counties and do it the right way. But as Sam says, I can't stand the word no, or can't. It can't be business as usual it hat we have to think way outside of the box at how we start to address and to take this thing head on. And it's collaborative. It is 100% collaborative. And

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I think there's like $625 million coming to the state of Tennessee from that settlement. And so, you know, I really hope that they do utilize those funds. Plus, there's money still in the Cares Act. There's tons of funding for this, but it leads me to my next question, which is, I know you're having these tough conversations with individuals who were formerly incarcerated or battling addiction. How often do you have to have those tough conversations with decision makers, like the people that are in you know, organizations like the police department, like the UC HRA, you see DD that just don't get it?

Mikel Miller:

You know, I'm going to be just honest, I'm truly blessed with the leadership that I have great a I am a department of one I like to tell people so the executive director of the agencies is 100%, supportive. We have leadership across the area, the upper Cumberland, county, mayors, etc, who have said, Listen, we need you folks to make this a priority. And it is it is a priority. Most everything that we're doing is very innovative. And I'm not going to tell you that the Department of Tennessee Health and Substance Abuse as well as the state along with like I said, we've got some different things that are all coming together. People are listening, there's even some new ways of of getting some funding, reimbursement back. And we're so innovative in the approach that they're really helping us a lot more than we possibly could have imagined. So I've got to really, truly believe with the support of the leadership and we've got a lot of really good folks up in Nashville that are very supportive. What's happening here in the upper Cumberland, I'll be honest, hopefully we can replicate this thing and help other areas that are in rural positions do the same, because there's hollers everywhere. There's places that you can't get your phone to work, but you can get methamphetamine. So the reality is, is that there's a lot of work we got to do and it's going to have to be again, I'm Just keep saying it over and over, it's going to be client centric. And it's going to be collective,

Kosta Yepifantsev:

how to Second Chance employment and rich and diversify our workforce? And what kind of businesses would you recommend utilize this program?

Mikel Miller:

So I'm going to start with this, I'm going to admit the fact that I went to rehab. And I'm going to tell you that when I went there, I was in there, and I looked around, and I was like, this is not quite my social circle. Okay. Okay, so we're gonna start, yeah, but the reality is, is that addiction doesn't have any boundaries. You want to just think, oh, it's displaced individuals, or this or that now, it's professionals, it's people in very high locations that have a lot of things going on. The reality of it is, is how did they come through their treatment? How do they handle their recovery and the accountability of their recovery, but second, chance employment can change everything, especially for the ones that are coming out of incarceration that are coming out of off the streets, because, again, they've been invisible, they have not been considered part of the workforce. So those positions that now you know, employers are just dying to fill, because there's nobody because they've started, you know, they're moving in other directions. The reality is, this can change everything, this can be a total game changer. And with getting the different, you know, fiscal agents and different government agencies on the same page, I think we can see some numbers that will really change a lot of things. So,

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I mean, aside from manufacturing, are there other businesses that can utilize their services?

Mikel Miller:

Any business? Okay, and he doesn't matter. Okay. Okay, so let's just look at TennCare. You know, TennCare has some pretty stringent rules. So you're aware, so we know that they're gonna have disqualifiers. That's a big word for us. I mean, we constantly talk about disqualifiers. But it's got to be the employer, we asked those questions to temp agencies don't necessarily have to meet those thresholds. And so I want to know what the disqualified ORS are with the employer, because even if they go through a temp agency, I don't want them to be disqualified if they're doing amazing things, and they ready to hire them. So we had to talk about that. But when we talk about disqualifiers, then we can say, Well, why you know, theft? Well, about a federal bonding program. That's real. It doesn't cost the employer anything, and they can be bonded. So if they do steal something from them, they'll be compensated back for it, or we owe it dollars, or there's so much federal money that is reentry dollars for up to what, 90 days, I think that they can get credit. That's amazing. But yeah, nobody's talking about it. But there's money out there to help reentry. And it's just a matter of educating everybody. So let's be honest, there's going to be places that can't you know, if there's firearms involved, and they had a strong armed robbery, they're not going to be selling guns. Yeah, they might not be working in a pharmacy, even though they know how to concoct some pretty creative things. But in the end, just about anywhere,

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I mean, I have so many questions right now, but I'm not gonna ask all but I am, I am curious, as you were battling your addiction, and you went to rehab, were you employed throughout that whole period, I own

Mikel Miller:

the company. Okay. My company enabled by addiction. So let's just start where, okay, I can't say I was present very much just long enough to make sure nothing had gone wrong. But so I no longer work for my own company. Because my personal company enabled me now my company does what Samantha's doing, we hire, mainly, it's females that are coming out of either human trafficking or have been exploited or whatever. And we give them a safe zone to work in. But the reality of it is, for me, I had to change everything. Because when you have unlimited resources, then obviously you can manipulate whatever you want to and you can do whatever you want to, I stripped it all the way back to just hey, I need to go right back to the basics of put phone tracker on my phone so that anybody that was affiliated with me always knew where I was, I did phone checks, anytime I went anywhere, I had to change everything about my life. And that's what we teach folks, you know, you tell somebody in rehab, Hey, before you get your phone back, you might want to think about it before you turn it on. Because some of the stuff you're gonna see is not stuff you need to deal with. The reality in the end is is that it's a process. I didn't know that I had social anxiety till two years after I got sober because my brain never knew that because I stayed messed up for almost 40 years. And so the reality is, I got to meet me two years after I got clean and sober. And that's pretty cool. Yeah. Like you're always up and I'm like, Well, I was down for so long that I never could see the positive ramifications. So a lot of times they say, Well, the best champion is the one that's been through it. And so advocacy champion, whatever you want to call it, the reality is, is that it doesn't matter what demographic level it doesn't matter, the education or anything else, every one of us that's in recovery has an opportunity to change. And as long as we're sewing backwards, you know, and that's how this thing works. You know, as long as you're giving back to the person behind you, I got champions in this town that are my heroes, they basically saved my life because they were just hard on me called me out on my stuff when I was trying to be a hard head. And now I'd have to do the same thing with those behind me. That's how we teach this and That's how we keep this up. And then you get employers that can match up to that and help you with that, man, the bridge is amazing.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Samantha, how did you decide that this journey was for you?

Samantha Sherrell:

You know, I felt called to do more than what we were doing in the community. But I didn't really know what that looked like for us. And one of our employees, we were scheduled to work a Saturday and I had been thinking about reaching out to some recovery programs, I had actually already called one and one of my employees came in, she said, I can't work this Saturday, because I'm volunteering at this house. And I'm going to be the weekend housing manager for these women who are in recovery. And I was like, Oh, you are that's so cool. I think I need to talk to the person who runs that program, because that's something that I've been thinking that we should, you know, consider and look at. And so it all kind of came together from there. I mean, it was something where I had prayed, you know, what is it that I'm supposed to be doing? Because I feel like there's more than I should be doing. And it just came together like that. So it's been a really big blessing.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

How does recovery to work address the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery? And how does it promote understanding and acceptance within the community?

Samantha Sherrell:

So I think Michaels doing an amazing job already of going out and educating people and educating businesses, the more businesses that are a part of this program, the more people that we get back to work, the less stigma there will be, you know, if you look at the numbers, one in three Americans has a criminal background. And so that's kind of interesting. Yeah. One in three has some sort of criminal background. So yeah, we're looking around the room here, like organ donor. So that's interesting. And you know, you think about that, that means that there are 10,000 over 10,000 potential job candidates that are reentering communities nationwide, every single week. And so the way that those businesses, the way that our local businesses choose to handle people that are reentering our community has just a huge impact on families across upper Cumberland, and across our area.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

We've got 11,000 job openings in the upper Cumberland. And so we did a little bit of math, before we started this podcast, Morgan and I, there's 288 inmates in Cookeville, there's 1100, pretrial inmates, that's a pretty good chunk of the 11,000 that we could potentially employ and get back to work. Why are we not targeting these, you know, 1500? People? They not ready? Or is the system not ready?

Mikel Miller:

I think it's a matter of its programmatic, let's just be honest, it comes down to money. As far as Putnam County, we have an amazing Sheriff that's very supportive. As a matter of fact, I talked to him just last week, and you know, it's just so amazing to have that the Cookeville Police Department also I mean, when we're involved with a project with them, it's more a matter of how do we go about it, you know, we're trying to build a program where we can get more information into the jail ahead of time. So we can start to see how we can work them out, and how that we can get them some job readiness and some things, but it comes down to funding, it comes down to writing a whole lot of grants, and then grants only lasts so long. So then how do we sustain this, and again, with federal dollars and reentry, in the amount of money that employers can get back, we should be able to create a sustainable model, really, what we need to do is just get some grants written, that'll allow us the opportunity to get into some of these places. I mean, we've got great relationships with judges through just most of the communities, you'd be amazed. We have great relationships with the drug courts. So we do have some folks that we're bringing in, that go out at either come out, you know, through the drug courts or that are coming out of incarceration, and they're being mandated to go to certain homes, and we can work with those folks who are dealing with it. But you're right, there's a lot of people being released that have zero plan. And the reality is that there's just not enough work being done. There's not enough money.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

And if I could sort of pay or my experience with what you do for a living day in and day out. We work with people with IDD with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There's a program that the state of Tennessee developed employment community first, literally employment as the very first word in it, not to get too far into the weeds. But what it was designed to do was people that were turning 18 years old that had an intellectual developmental disability that were already in the system or that were, you know, living at home with their parents, but they still had like an IEP at their school or something like that. They had a provider such as ourselves, that we're going to provide them the stability to find employment and essentially wean themselves eventually off of services. Now these individuals receive hundreds of 1000s of dollars. dollars a year in funding to achieve this goal. If we could even have a fraction of that, for individuals who were formerly incarcerated, trying to reenter the workforce without a disability, just regular people, it would be a phenomenal, most definitely. And you obviously are going to handle the logistics of all of this. So I'm assuming at some point, you're going to have to hire somebody and get some help. Right? Yeah, we

Mikel Miller:

are where we are growing. There's a lot of things happening in one fell swoop. But yeah, I mean, the logistics, you know, it took a while to build, you know, like I said, we built it backwards. But the great thing was after we built this whole thing out, and we've enlisted community partnerships that are boots on the ground in so many of these counties that are the pulse that can help connect them to all the services. And the great part with UC HRA is that we have offices in all 14 counties. So we have resources in those places. So we have ways to make the system work and to get people back to us. But in the end of the day, it's about identifying grants, writing grants, and being lucky enough, it's competitive, it's competitive, there's a lot of people out there, but you know, there's just there's a lot of good things happening. I tell people all the time, look, you're doing kind of what I'm doing. If I spent $5 on this person, that's five bucks out of my budget. But if I get you to spend 250, and I spend 250, and we're collectively working together, that's part of the problem too, because people don't always want to work together they want they want to fix it their way. And the only way we're going to do as collectively.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I mean, I think this is probably the best time that we could have ever hoped for in terms of having 11,000 job openings, and having a population of individuals who can fill those job openings. You know, I mean, it kind of seems like a no brainer. So you know, let's not lose this opportunity, right? How can individuals in recovery, access the services and support offered by recovery to work in the upper Cumberland region,

Mikel Miller:

we can be reached through the UC HRA offices, you know, basically just come in there that we're in their kiosk. So if you walk in, and you need to talk to somebody to help the ladies up front, I'll help you go right in can book an appointment recovery, the number to work.com, and you can book an appointment to come in and see us if I gotta go someplace I drive, it doesn't matter. You know, we're available employers that want to talk some more. Hey, I mean, I would love to talk to just about anybody that wants to talk about giving somebody a hand up, we can talk about, you know how that works. You asked about some of those folks in incarceration, we got to deal with disqualifiers. You know, we got to talk, we got to have those conversations. Okay, we've got them coming out of jail. But you got to understand that here's the records, how do we bridge those things? How do we get through that? And so there's just a lot of pre work that we got to get done upfront, but we're trying to cross those bridges. I mean, there's a lot of employers out here, and there's a lot of counties to cover. So we're forging some things, you know, here and there. So,

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Samantha, you're kind of like the ambassador for this program. You know, are there other ambassadors out there like you?

Samantha Sherrell:

That's a great question. I think, right now, for this program. On the employer side, there are some people in the community who talk to other employers as well. But I would say, one of the main ones, so if there's a business that's listening to this, and they have questions, and they have hard questions about how this is going to work with their existing team, and with their existing business model, then please reach out to me, I mean, I would love you know, to have coffee, or to have tea or to come to your business and talk about it, because this is something that I'm passionate about. And I know that it can make a big difference for their business for the individuals and for the families in our community.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Yeah, and it's safe to say that employment is the number one step to stability.

Mikel Miller:

It's also one of the big things to help reduce recidivism, we're going to surround the individual brand new and recovery, it's all about them. It's the client centric model where we can pump all these different services. And the end game isn't client centric, the end game is community centric. So faith based organizations, and like I said, recovery meetings and mental health, physical health, everybody plays into this piece. But the reality is, if we focus 100% on this individual, we're going to end up with a community member that we really just want and need in our communities. And, you know, I want to step into that a little bit. And the faith based side of things is huge. It really is. And we've got some organizations in the area that are really very, very recovery friendly. And that's huge. That's huge. You talk about being able to walk into a meeting and feel comfortable knowing there's recovery churches out there, and you can walk into that and be exactly who you are isn't is beautiful. And so it's a very large, large product or project I should say, Well, I guess it's a product to

Samantha Sherrell:

I'm glad you touched on that because I remember the first day that I went to visit one of the places here that's faith based for women that are in recovery, and I was just amazed at the life skills that they were learning, right so they gather people from the community that come in and you know, somebody from a bank might be coming in teaching a class on budgeting well We probably all learn that at home from our parents. And so we take for granted that there are so many people that did not learn that skill at home from their parents. And so we have these amazing organizations like this is living and Maranatha, and priority house independence, again, all these places that the faith based ones really do an exceptional job of bringing in people from the community to teach life skills that these people need to go back to work and to really re enter the community. And I think that's amazing. You know, they teach people how to cook, you know, how to change a tire, how to budget, just things that you know, you might take for granted? How closely

Kosta Yepifantsev:

are you guys working with the tan of grant with the ECHR?

Mikel Miller:

Here's how that would look. I mean, it could be a really beautiful picture. The reality is, from a crisis standpoint, they can't help that's us, if we're on the front of that. They need to have unemployment, they need to have a place to live. There's some things and we can help with that upfront. But empower and Bridges out of Poverty is just going to be so amazing to watch unfold. How are we involved, let's say dad has an addiction issue. And the family is suffering the wrath of that. And let's say the family can qualify for the Empower program, and they can get involved with that, while we take care of that. Can you imagine what that looks like a year from now? And how beautiful that could be. So the reality is, is that we have some amazing opportunities in the upper Cumberland. And you know, it's all of us collectively. And I think what champions like Samantha out there pushing and pushing and the opportunities for us to share that we can do a lot more, you know, we're in a very rural area, and some of our counties are struggling very hard. So it's going to be neat to see what the services can do in some of those counties.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I only have one more question. It's 2022, almost 2023. Why are we just now having this conversation? You know,

Mikel Miller:

it takes champions, it takes champions in a community, it takes collective impact, and it takes just not taking the word no. Lexi SATA man, I can't stand no, I'd rather say, let me look into and see what we can figure out, but to just say no, or can't, and then they're hitting it out the street again, it's like, man, it's just not cool. We got to figure this out.

Samantha Sherrell:

I totally agree. I'm on the same page. As Michael, I think, you know, as we as business owners make this transition, we'll see what a blessing it is, and how well it can work for our businesses. And we'll all go tell somebody else, right, we'll call our friend and say, Hey, I've got this amazing employee, and this is what they've gone through. And it's crazy how well they're doing at work, you know, they've been promoted. And they show up every day, and they're so happy to be here and their attitude. And also, by the way, they got an apartment, and they're getting their kids back, you know that those are the type of success stories that as they continue to grow, will continue to just proliferate throughout our community.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

So we always like to end the show on a high note, who is someone that makes you better when you're together?

Samantha Sherrell:

I hope you've got time to sit here because my amazing friend Michael, who invited to be with us today who's so encouraging and just such a blessing, my amazing husband, who puts up with my crazy ideas and is just steady, you know, he's just steady, where I kind of can be all over the place. And then my family, and everybody at my work is so encouraging as well.

Mikel Miller:

Well, I've been married for 33 years and probably wasted for most of those, we'll just say. So my wife number one, you know, when I got out of rehab and told her look, number one thing in my life has got to be recovery. She's been there. And every step of the way, everything I've done that has been totally different than anything I've ever done in my life. She supports it, whether that's pulling somebody off the street and put them in her house for a couple of days while we figure out what we're gonna do with them early on to whatever. But then from there, I gotta say that volunteer behavioral health was huge, you know, and they can do a lot of really great things for us in the community with the treatment aspect of things that they're here. I learned a lot from them, spending three years with them. And then from there, I ended up at UCD, UC HRA. And again, I couldn't have shown up at a better time when Mark Farley sat there and said, We're going to change the way we do things in the upper Cumberland and that's all I've seen since so you know we're better together because of collective impact is being built and we're addressing the issues head on. Thank you for joining us on this episode of Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev. If you've enjoyed listening and you want to hear more, make sure you subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts. Leave us a review or better yet, share this episode with a friend. Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev is a Kosta Yepifantsev Production. Today's episode was written and produced by Morgan Franklin post production mixing and editing by Mike Franklin. Want to know more about Kosta visit us at kostayepifantsev.com We're better together.