We had the good fortune of connecting with Robert Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Robert, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
Robert Smith was destined to work in the field of Prison Reentry. From an early age he began going in and out of Juvenile Detention, County Jail and graduating to State Prison. Growing up in severe poverty in a violent home fueled by alcoholism and drug addiction making the transition into criminal activity wasn’t a huge leap. Robert worked in a variety of jobs and industries while incarcerated and even reached the highest honor of Trustee. March 6th of 2000 he walked out of prison with his GED and less than two hundred dollars in gate money. While he was incarcerated he began mentoring other inmates for a life beyond prison as a GED tutor and reentry planning advisor. Noticing the revolving door, he was truly worried if there was any hope for him to succeed on the outside or whether he’d be just another recidivism statistic. “All I kept hearing was – “I couldn’t find a job” or “I couldn’t find a place to live”. Robert knew that he didn’t want that to be his reality. Staying focused on a goal and telling himself, “I’ll take any job” and “a bad day at work is better than a good day in prison,” was a constant motivation. Today, Robert has made good on his commitment to serving folks both in and out of the criminal justice system to reclaim a full life beyond prison hiring close to 500 justice impacted San Diegan’s each year. Currently Robert is the Director for Center for Employment Opportunities’ in San Diego, one of 30 CEO offices nationwide. He enjoys teaching and interacting with each and every employee orientation, offering his own story of uncertainty and triumph. Robert has worked for the past 20 years in the nonprofit sector across the US and in the UK, wearing many hats – starting in his first position as a volunteer janitor in a job readiness program to serving as an adult educator, program manager and Executive Director.
What should our readers know about your business?
CEO began as a demonstration project of the Vera Institute of Justice in the 1970s to address employment barriers facing individuals after their release from incarceration. In 1996, CEO became an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, providing comprehensive employment services to people newly released from New York State prisons and detention facilities. We now operate in 30 cities across ten states and have made more than 34,000 placements into full-time employment for individuals who were formerly incarcerated. We provide immediate, effective, and comprehensive employment services exclusively to individuals who have recently returned home from incarceration. Our vision is that anyone with a criminal record who wants to work has the preparation and support needed to find a job and stay connected to the labor force. We believe that everyone, regardless of their past, deserves the chance to shape a stronger future for themselves, their family, and their communities. CEO’s Theory of Change posits that if the employment needs of persons with criminal convictions are addressed at their most vulnerable point—when they are first released from incarceration or soon after conviction—by providing life skills education, short-term paid transitional employment, full-time job placement, and post-placement services, they will be less likely to become reincarcerated and more likely to build a foundation for a stable, productive life for themselves and their families. Based on our Theory of Change, CEO’s program model provides a road map for participants to achieve a long-term goal of remaining attached to the legitimate workforce and maintaining their freedom.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Best seafood tacos – Oscars Mexican Seafood, Best beach – Tamarack Surf Beach and Best Hike – “El Cap” El Cajon Mountain hit these location along with a trip south of the border to experience our binational region.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
For 20 years I have been working in reentry and every organization and partner I have worked with has made a huge impact on me personally and professionally. Working with the Justice Partners, City Government, Community and Faith Based Organizations, Donors, etc has demonstrated the deep caring that so many have for their communities. Spending time with and learning from intellects like Cornell West (Race Matters, The Rich And The Rest Of Us: A Poverty Manifesto) and Edward Latessa (What Works and What Doesn’t in Reducing Recidivism). Building bridges between both of their bodies of work while balancing Carl Rogers (Client Centered Therapy) person-centered approach and Miller and Rollnicks Motivational Interviewing (Helping People Change) has been an amazing career.
City of San Diego Environmental Services and Mayor Faulkner with CEO, Caltrans