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'Taking things apart but we are building them up': RecycleForce rebuilding lives of young offenders

Posted at 8:01 PM, Sep 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-20 16:44:55-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Several hundred young men and women spent the day at RecycleForce taking apart old computers, TVs, printers and anything else that can be reduced to parts and sold as scrap.

But the steel, the copper and even the gold that's melted off motherboards is far from the most valuable thing coming out of RecycleForce's east-side warehouse. This place gives people who have committed crimes a chance to turn themselves around.

"I never experienced working," Travon Taylor, 21 said. "They got certificates here. I’m going to school here and I get paid to go to school. There are a lot of benefits, and they really help you and they really care."

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Travon Taylor

RecycleForce gives people coming out of jail or prison a chance to prove they can be good employees. They can learn to drive a forklift and earn certificates that can help them land other construction or manufacturing jobs. They can even get paid while they earn a high school diploma.

"When you can stay employed, your chances of doing crime drop. It's not perfect, but it drops," RecycleForce President Gregg Keesling said.

The program is geared towards young offenders.

In June, it was awarded a $2 million federal grant to launch a new job training and mentorship program for justice-involved youths 18-24. Last year, RecycleForce won a $4.3 million federal grant to provide similar employment services for folks with criminal records who are in the same age group. The money, Keesling said, pays for workers' salaries.

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Gregg Keesling

"There's less focus on the older individuals... They're not the ones doing crime," Keesling said. "We're a crime-reduction strategy and as such, we have to begin to focus on where that crime is."

Bruce Heady, 21, has been with RecycleForce for 75 days. He said he had difficulty fitting in at other job programs because it felt like everyone was judging him for his past crimes.

"This kind of eases you into, like, the workforce when it comes to bigger job opportunities," Heady said. "RecycleForce makes it comfortable for you to have your own swag but still get something done when it comes to certificates and accomplishments and all that."

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Bruce Heady

RecycleForce is a temporary job. It's a 120-day bridge between incarceration and real-world society.

Bosses here understand that many of these folks will miss work for court dates or drug tests. The hope is they get the ankle monitors off by the time they leave the program and find a more permanent job.

"We are taking things apart but we are building them up with their self-esteem," said Robert Smith, RecycleForce warehouse manager.

The idea is to let workers know they can do it, Smith said. They can start a job and finish it. They can earn a paycheck and be proud of themselves.

"RecycleForce gives people opportunities to come in and work," Smith said.

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RecycleForce worker strips parts from an old computer.

More: RecycleForce receives grant to connect high risk young adults to employment | RecycleForce's peer leadership program helps ex-offenders become leaders

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at or on Twitter: @vicryc.