RecycleForce's peer leadership program helps ex-offenders become leaders

Posted at 6:58 PM, Jul 13, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — RecycleForce, a company that recycles electronic waste, is creating a new peer leadership program to help their employees who are returning home from being incarcerated.

"Instead of throwing all these individuals away in the prison system, we are beginning to go how can we divert them before it happens? For those that have been locked up, how can we bring them home? We need the labor and it's the moral thing to do for our community and our people," RecycleForce President Gregg Keesling said.

RecycleForce's workforce development program focuses on helping ex-offenders break down the barriers to employment by providing transitional jobs for up to six months, as well as services designed to get their lives back on track. They also help those experiencing homelessness and people who committed crimes as juveniles.

Jerome Moses spent the last decade in and out of prison.

"In 2011, I was locked up for armed robbery," Moses said.

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Jerome Moses takes apart medical equipment to recycle inside RecycleForce warehouse.

After he was released in January 2021, Moses, who now works at RecycleForce, decided to make a change.

"If you want to do the same thing you're going to get the same result," he said. "I didn't go back to selling drugs, I didn't go back to doing what I know best, I changed."

RecycleForce is now receiving a more than $2.2 million grant from Lilly Endowment's Enhancing Opportunity initiative. The money is helping fund the peer leadership project.

"So it's allowing us to have more time with our top folks," Keesling said. "It gives them a chance to become leaders here, we call it peers. They'll be the leaders and have crews that they oversee and then deal with all the various issues that people coming home from prison face. You have to go meet your parole or probation officer, parole and probation come on-site here."

He believes the peer leadership program will help the people they serve be successful once they transition into new jobs, by having leaders who understand. In addition, he says it will make our community safer.

"There are people that can be dangerous without a doubt, but the vast majority, almost all of the people that do the violence, is a small percent and when they're engaged in work and having income that bends the emotion that often happens around family and girlfriends and money and the lack there of," Keesling said.

Moses credits RecycleForce with helping him get his life back on track.

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"It's been a battle of determination and how bad do you want it," Jerome Moses said about his journey since being released from prison.

"I give it all up to the founder Mr. Keesling, this would never be possible without him," Moses said.

Since he started his employment he's earned certifications and also now lives in his own apartment.

Everyone who works at RecycleForce is referred for employment, no one can apply. The referrals come from the offices of parole, probation, community correction, prosecutor or courts.

At the end of July, RecycleForce is planning to break ground on its new facility located at the former RCA site at Sherman Park on the near east side and move out of the current location on Roosevelt Avenue. The new 102,000 square foot building will allow RecycleForce to not only double the amount of material processed, but also double and possibly triple the amount of people they serve.

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Gregg Keesling, RecycleForce President, shares plans for new location at Sherman Park.

"That's very important from the business and social aspect of what we do," Keesling said. "Perhaps even more important, we are going to the first time in our long career of this own our own building. We are going to be able to sink our roots very deep down so we can't be gentrified out ever again."

Recycleforce was previously located at Sherman Park when the company first opened in Indiana. The new building will be built in honor of Keesling's son who died in Iraq and their former board chair, Clifford Rubenstein, who used to own the building at the former RCA site. In 2011, Keesling said the economy collapsed and the land was gifted back to the city of Indianapolis. RecycleForce moved out in August 2012.

"Just to be able to say his name in this piece that Clifford Rubinstein preserved it and we're going back to build in his honor," Keesling said.

RecycleForce now has an agreement with the City of Indianapolis to use new market tax credits in order to open their new location.

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RecyleForce plans to break ground on new location at Sherman Park at the end of July.

"The city is trying to re-develop all of Sherman Park," Dustin Jones, RecycleForce's chief operating officer said. "This will be the first development there and so for them to have this key structure go up and be the flagship of corporate park that they are trying to further develop really it's a win for both of us."

"Over time, RecycleForce has played a vital role in Indianapolis, leading the way in reducing recidivism and helping residents re-enter the workforce following incarceration," said Scarlett Andrews Martin, the director of the Department of Metropolitan Development. "The City of Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development is excited to help forward and expand RecyleForce's impact in our community with employment and job training."