State Senate considering funding prisoner career training program to take it statewide

The Spectrum

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Nine out of 10 Ohio prisoners will someday walk free, and one man is on a mission to make sure they have a life and a career to go home to.

Cleveland-based executive headhunter Tim Johnston is using his decades of experience to educate and train prisoners to get ready for life on the outside and now the State Senate is considering funding to take Johnston’s program, called Zero Back, statewide.

“What most people don’t realize is 90 percent of the people who are in prison today are coming home and they’re going to need a job,” Johnston said. “And we want to try to get them something more than just a job, but a career.”

For two years, Johnston has been working with hundreds of inmates behind bars in northeast Ohio. A convicted car thief and drug dealer named Maurice is one of the people Johnson has helped. Maurice had no idea he already had skills that could help him get a legitimate career on the outside.

“He’s a natural salesman,” Johnston said about Maurice. “Huge personality, great communications skills, so we’re talking to him about getting into sales, marketing, call center work.”

Johnston works with JobsOhio to identify “in-demand” jobs and starts coaching prisoners for those jobs during their very first week behind bars.

“We’ve actually already coached and trained inmates to be able to deliver the program inside the institutions.”

Johnston said that with state support, Zero Back would be able to go to five more prisons, helping more than 17,000 inmates a year. There would be online courses, and just maybe, when an inmate looks in the mirror, he will see more than an orange jumpsuit.

“We have to show them that even though they made a mistake, they paid a price,” Johnston said. “We still have to give them an opportunity to live a fulfilling life, to show their families and their communities that they can still participate to contribute and not be a burden on taxpayers or their families. They just want a second chance.”

The Senate Finance Committee is considering adding Zero Back to the appropriations bill. The program would cost about $1 million, coming out to almost 8 cents a day per participant.  

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