More than 200 people came out to the Eppes Recreation Center, 400 Nash St. for the launch party of the Pitt County chapter of the NC Second Chance Alliance.

After inmates pay their debts to society, many find barriers to employment, housing, healthcare and even food.

Without supportive friends and family members, those same inmates often turn to crime and end up in prison again.

The NC Second Chance Alliance is a statewide association of community partners working to address and remove those barriers by lobbying for legislative bills that help ex-offenders secure employment and housing, among other things.

The nonprofit group, based out of Raleigh, held a launch party for its new Pitt County chapter on Thursday afternoon at the Eppes Recreational Center.

Several local dignitaries, including legislators and law enforcement and court officials, were among the nearly 200 people in attendance.

Attendees listened as individuals came forwards to share stories of how being given a second chance changed their life and allowed them to become productive members of society.

Martin Maurer was one of several who shared his story.

"I was a drug dealer for over 20 years," Maurer said. "Somebody gave me a chance 20 years ago and that's why I'm standing here now."

Maurer told audience members that he left home at 15 and lived on the streets of New York City. He said he became addicted to alcohol and drugs and almost destroyed his life.

But Mauer managed to turn his life around around. He overcame his addictions, graduated from Pitt Community College and started his own business.

He owns Mauer's Minute Mechanic, a company that distributes standalone car diagnostic machines to area businesses.

Maurer's product placed second in the City of Greenville's business pitch competition in March and he took home a $4,500 prize.

Marer noted that not everyone gets this lucky. He said that even with a criminal record, he has advantages that many people don't.

"I have a good support system and I have a driver's license, a vehicle, a job and a home," Maurer said.

Many affected

According to the NC Second Chance Alliance website — ncsecondchance.org — more than 37,000 people are incarcerated in one of North Carolina’s 55 state prisons. There are also an additional 20,000 people confined in local jails, 85,000 people on supervised probation and 12,000 people on post-release supervision or parole.

At least 2 million North Carolinians have criminal records, the website says. These numbers provide powerful motivation to the state and the nation to help put ex-inmates on a more positive path.

One step forward, according to the alliance, is to help such individuals find steady employment.

Unfortunately, ex-offenders often are turned down for jobs. Many companies' application forms require people to check a box if they have ever been convicted of a felony or if they have a criminal record.

"This box is still keeping them incarcerated in a way," Maurer said.

Maurer said that because candidates check that box, they often are immediately out of the running and don't even get to meet hiring managers or participate in interviews.

Tools to succeed

Thomas Sutton, a habitual DWI offender who also spoke at the event, said he ended up homeless even though he tried to find a job.

I would walk all the way from Ayden with my wife to Greenville to apply for jobs only to be let down, Sutton said.

"I didn't have food," Sutton said. "I was struggling to eat and I couldn't get employment anywhere."

Sutton's parole officer told him about STRIVE, a program offered by Life of NC that provides participants with the skills necessary to seek gainful employment and to become productive members of the workforce.

"I went through that and I got all the tools I needed," Sutton said.

Now Sutton has a job at the Third Street Education Center and he has learned carpentry skills.

Like Maurer, he is grateful for his second chance.

For more information on NC Second Chance Alliance, including its 2019 advocacy agenda, visit ncsecondchance.org