Hiring Returning Citizens

By Mike Dykstra

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven… (Colossians 1:19-20)

Heading into the county jail to visit a team member that worked for our company, I was thinking that business school does not prepare you for this.

All things are to be renewed for the mission of Jesus. Advancing the kingdom of God requires us to be mindful that all things are to be reconciled and renewed on this side of eternity. Too often, business work has been given a backseat to other vocations, such as pastor, teacher, nurse, or missionary. We are called to be everyday missionaries in the workplace.

One way our company has attempted to live out this calling is by hiring returning citizens—those who have been previously incarcerated for a felony. The label “returning citizen” is more uplifting than frequently used terms such as ex-con or ex-felon. When we decided to change our hiring policy to allow for returning citizens to be considered for work, we had to change our prejudices.

By age 23, one in three Americans has been arrested, resulting in between 70-100 million people in the US who have a criminal record. Two people could commit the same crime, and one get a misdemeanor and one a felony, depending on race, socio-economics, access to legal expertise, and other factors. Returning citizens are found to be successful, good, loyal, solid workers, with no data showing that there is any increasing danger to workplace violence.

Bottom line for us: returning citizens make up over 30 of our 400 team members and we have experienced great results. Recidivism is reduced by 90% if a returning citizen has a job and housing. We have worked with non-profit organizations on other aspects of life that would help these individuals achieve success.

We believe that we can utilize our business to transform lives and communities—both in selling and servicing builders and construction companies—and in making all of us better as we develop those around us to their fullest potential. Many people come to work with different stressors in their lives and potential barriers to work. We have recently partnered with a non-profit that seeks to serve businesses as a concierge to varying social services to reduce barriers that prevent them from coming to work. These barriers could be financial, housing, child-care, transportation, among other things. We provide this service so that our team members get the help they need when they need it. This approach extends beyond basic benefits of health care and retirement benefits.

The individual that I visited is serving a prison sentence and the criminal justice system is not kind to repeat offenders. After working for our company for five years, he is back in prison because he made a bad decision. We would rather that he worked for our company, but life is messy on this side of eternity.

Our company is on a journey to honor God with our business. We are not perfect and make mistakes all the time. However, we would not have the mentality to transform the workplace to advance the kingdom of God if we did not believe that “all things” are to be renewed.

Mike Dykstra is President/CEO of Zeeland Lumber and Supply based in Zeeland, MI, serving the building industry with lumber and building materials, and truss and components.

One thought on “Hiring Returning Citizens

  1. Mike: God bless you for your kingdom building with and for returning citizens. Thank you for this message during these strange and tragic times.

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