Ex-con builds a glass processing business staffed by former prisoners

By Hu Yuwei Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/21 17:46:47

Lin Guohua could not get a job when he was released from prison, so he started his own company

He can offer ex-convicts work, but most have difficulty finding a wife and starting a family

Governments are starting to help former prisoners find work, but society still presents many barriers

Prisoners seek work information from companies which offer positions to released inmates on May 24, 2012 at a prison in Xingtai, North China's Hebei Province. Photo: VCG

On a winter afternoon, 40-year-old Lin Guohua was invited to visit a prison in East China's Zhejiang Province, where he was an inmate two decades ago, to speak to more than 100 prisoners. One of the prison guards made him tea and another added water to the pot politely.

Lin is no stranger to the environment here. In 1992, as a teenager, he got into a fight and stabbed a person to death, and spent the next six years in prison.

Lin currently runs a glass processing plant, and has cumulatively recruited more than 500 reformed prisoners since it opened in 2000. Most of his employees have been jailed for felony crimes such as homicide, robbery and drug trafficking.

As a model of successful transformation, and a volunteer to provide ex-cons with employment opportunities, Lin is sometimes invited to give lectures at the prison, and uses the chance to recruit for his glass factory.

The factory employs and accommodates a large number of inmates and was once known as a local "rehabilitation shelter." It has also caused Lin headaches in management.

The local government put up a sign at the factory gate saying "resettlement and reeducation hub for ex-cons" in order to recognize the factory's outstanding efforts to solve the employment issue faced by former prisoners.

After a few days, Lin took the plaque off. He didn't want the label to stick, but the reputation remains, bringing about both praise and criticism.

Lin Guohua, an ex-con, visits a prison in Zhejiang Province to recruit for his Jiaqing Glass Processing Plant in 2014. Photo: Courtesy of Lin Guohua

Zero opportunity

In 1999, fresh out of jail, Lin began to earn money by repairing bikes after being rejected by more than 30 factories. A customer by chance gave him the opportunity to install stainless-steel doors and windows, winning him his first order.

In early 2000, as orders surged, Lin summoned his fellow former inmates, who also could not find work. The young able-bodied men devoted themselves to making the new business succeed.

He learned from the newspaper that the local government was encouraging businesses to recruit people who had served their sentences. Lin visited a jail in Zhejiang Province to recruit his first batch of former prisoners. Since then, his glass factory became famous for employing ex-convicts.

In addition to directly recruiting people from prison, the factory also accepted those allocated by the local government and those coming to join themselves, no matter their intelligence, physical condition and criminal background. In order to get a job offer, some even lie to say they have been in prison.

In the eyes of many workers, Lin is trustworthy and to be thanked for not only supporting their survival, but also taking care of their self-esteem.

 "In my factory, people call each other by their short names but not full names," he said, "because in prison we are usually called by our full names, which sounds very rigid.

Now in the factory, everyone is equal, free and relaxed. Gradually, the communication between newly released prisoners and longer-term employees is less estranged and more integrated."

Management difficulties

The glass factory once had more than 100 people at its peak. The management of new employees is always the primary headache for Lin.

People who have just come out of prison still like to form cliques, and there are often bloody incidents that happened in the factory as different factions fight. Because of their past, they seldom call the police to handle disputes. Lin has had to deal with injuries from assault many times.

"It's hard to manage, and there is a limit to the amount of support the government can give to solve the underlying problem," Lin told the Global Times.

In the process of handling disputes, Lin noted the root of conflict lies in boasting. The workers like to brag to each other about their saga and anecdotes in prison.

Lin therefore laid down two inexorable laws - no boasting and no talking about the past. Violators could face a fine of 2,000 yuan ($290).

Lin knows that workers' love of bragging stems from their low self-esteem and a lack of confidence in fully integrating into society.

He rejected most of the media's requests to shoot video considering his factory's workers are reluctant to interact with the media and government officials.

Disputes also come from the absence of female partners. In 2009, three female inmates were recruited into the factory. Young men in the factory competed to woo the female workers, and a quarrel ensued. An extra rule followed immediately: no female workers are taken in any more.

Obstruction and stigma

The challenges and pressures faced by the glass factory are not only from the prisoners but also from competitors and neighbors.

Soon after opening, a competing glass factory spread the message that it is bad luck to allow ex-prisoners to decorate people's new houses.

A local resident told the Global Times that nearby conservative residents still struggle to accommodate their presence, saying ex-offenders living in the factory always bring a sense of "danger." Rumors and reports against them have even caused the bank to stop lending to them for a time.

In 2012, the glass plant was reported as illegally zoned, and officials asked for it to be dismantled. The sudden crisis cut off the workers' livelihood, and also ignited a thirst to seek vengeance on the whistleblowers.

A local police station senior official later stood up for the factory and successfully fought to keep it open. The police promised to give maximum support, as long as Lin could guarantee the smooth operation of the factory.

At an opinion-gathering meeting held by local governments, he proposed the elimination of discrimination against those released after serving their sentences, and the removal of the requirement of "no criminal record" in recruitment brochures. About 500 local businesspeople said they are willing to answer his call.

He also suggested that ex-prisoners be allowed to fill widely vacant security guard positions, but none of his recommendations were officially accepted.

Chance for rebirth

Lin feels that many people coming out of prison indeed wish to live a good life. However, society lacks opportunities and guidance for them.

In his speech to the prisoners, Lin started by saying, "Many of you used to be gang leaders, but your time is over, my brothers."

"It's now a society under the rule of law," he warned, adding that today's China is a cashless society, which makes the crime of theft more impossible.

"Do not get hung up on the idea that society never gives up on you. There is fierce competition outside, and as men, we have to face the reality," he was quoted as saying by Guyu Story of Tencent's news website.

He hung a banner in the middle of the factory roof, saying, "Only hard work can make you successful."

It's a cliche, but he wishes people in the factory to take it as gospel truth.

Another major concern of Lin is the marriage problem for his employees. The local government had helped contact the women's prison in the hope that introductions could be made for matchmaking, but the effort was ultimately unsuccessful.

"The experience of being in prison over the past decade or two has changed many ex-cons' worldview and made it difficult for them to enter into a normal marriage. Ordinary people don't understand it, but we can feel it," Lin told the Global Times.

"I don't care how many people I have received in my factory, I care whether they can actively integrate into society in various aspects," he continued.

Some of the inmates who left Lin's factory do not want to talk about their story here anymore. "Never tell my family I've worked for you. That's my stain," they warned Lin. He understood that the past is like a scar for some people.

"There are still many who cannot completely get past it," Lin said.

Join forces

Lin's glass factory is not unique in providing jobs to ex-offenders. On February 27, a major job fair was held in Chengmai, South China's Hainan Province. The local judicial bureau arranged for ex-cons to attend.

A total of 45 enterprises from across the province recruited for positions in catering, hotels, medicine, finance and other industries, providing 2,280 posts.

"A stable job means a lot to released prisoners. They have a harder time getting jobs than ordinary people. Failure to get job is very likely to bring him into prison again. A complete family and stable work are the two most important factors that determine their successful return to society," Zheng Bo, the director general of Shanghai Xinhang Community Service Station, told the Global Times.

Since 2006, Zheng has been engaged in resettlement and re-education for released criminals. His community service station is one of the first social organizations in China to serve former prisoners. According to Zheng's survey, ex-cons face widespread employment discrimination.

The official working skill training provided by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security greatly relieved employment pressure on released criminals. But many end up unable to successfully find the right job due to a shortage of information. This gave Zheng the idea to develop an app with local human resources companies to match up vacancies for those who are released.

Zheng believes that private enterprises should be expected to contribute more to ex-cons' return to society. Unlike foreign firms or large State-owned companies, private ones are often able to provide more labor-intensive jobs. The government tends to give some incentives to private employers to encourage offering more positions to ex-cons, said Zheng. But Zheng noted that there are still enterprises who refuse to hire former prisoners no matter how much money is offered.


Newspaper headline: Moving forward

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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