A native of York, Alabama, Renita had a son and a daughter by the time she graduated from high school in 1994. She spent several years working and attending community colleges in Alabama and Mississippi, and soon needed only one class to finish her associate’s degree.
But her plans changed when she was arrested for drug possession in Texas. Renita describes the arrest as uncharacteristic.
“I had never gotten in trouble before, and it’s still the only time I’ve been in trouble,” she said.
Renita was six months pregnant when the judge handed down a fifteen-year sentence. After giving birth while incarcerated in 2001, Renita turned over full custody of her son to her cousin in Kentucky, while her mother took care of her two older children in Alabama. With the odds seemingly stacked against her, Renita wondered how she would ever start her life again.
Renita was released on parole in August 2006 after serving five years in prison. She spent her first five months of freedom working at a fast food restaurant, where she became assistant manager after only a few weeks.
“I gave it all I had and got promoted,” said Renita. “I knew that if I worked hard, I could prove that my jail time didn’t define me.”
A few months later, she left Texas for Kentucky, moved in with her cousin, and was reunited with her youngest son and eventually her older son and daughter. Renita’s first job in Kentucky was at a gas station and travel center, then at a car manufacturing facility until she was laid off in July 2007.
As she drove by a Goodwill center the following month, she noticed a “Help Wanted” sign and stopped to fill out an application. She interviewed with the manager later that day and was hired as a production clerk.
Renita spent her first few weeks learning the Goodwill process, including cleaning the store, accepting and sorting donations, and hanging clothes. To make ends meet, she balanced her job at Goodwill with a second part-time job at a gas station.
“Even though she started out quiet and shy, I knew right away that she had a lot of promise,” said Kathy, manager of the Goodwill center where Renita works. “This job has coaxed the leadership skills right out of her. Renita is so hard-working and dependable.”
Renita quickly worked her way up to cashier status before being promoted to assistant manager—after only two months at Goodwill. With the new full-time position, she was able to give up her second job.
In the two years since she was hired, Renita has developed new skills in working with people who have disabilities or other disadvantages. She has shown exceptional support and understanding in resolving employees’ issues or concerns. Renita credits Kathy and the rest of her Goodwill team for having guided and mentored her.
“Goodwill doesn’t treat me differently because I have a felony on my record,” said Renita. “It prevented me from getting jobs before, and I wondered how I could ever make any headway. Goodwill gave me a solid chance to turn things around.”
With her newfound stability, Renita’s life seemed to be back on track—until her mother passed away from breast cancer in 2007. Because her mother had been caring for Renita’s nephew in Alabama, she assumed guardianship of him and he moved to Kentucky.
“Despite all the roadblocks that have been tossed her way, Renita has done so well,” said Tephanie, her community employment specialist. “She has achieved every goal we set together, including working on her management skills and going back to school.”
Today, Renita is a busy mother to her teenage son, daughter and nephew. She is also strengthening her relationship with her younger son and is close to purchasing her own home. Working full-time at Goodwill means that Renita has access to employee benefits for herself and her children such as health and dental care, life insurance, and paid vacation time.
Goodwill has become a vital support system for Renita as she works towards completing her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. With the support and flexibility of her co-workers, she is able to work and go to school full-time.
“If I were working anywhere else, I probably wouldn’t be in school right now,” said Renita. “Goodwill wants me to finish school and achieve what I set out to do years ago. Having that degree will be a major advantage for my future, and I’m so grateful for all the support I’ve received here.”
Renita hopes to use her firsthand experience with the justice system to find a job in social work and help people who have experienced situations similar to her own.
“I’m proof of the power of second chances,” said Renita. “I want people to have the opportunity to overcome obstacles, gain employment, and get their lives back in order, just like I did.”