Barry Moore is the General Manager of Haley Buick GMC on Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond. Among his varied charitable work, he has volunteered with CARITAS and the Richmond City Justice Center to prepare inmates for reentry—and hired ex-offenders to help the dealership thrive.
You're looking at a right-wing guy, the most conservative person you will meet. I ran for state senate last year, and I’m a car salesman for life. I run a for-profit business; I'm not a missionary. And I believe strongly that if you do the crime, you must do the time. But we’re talking about human beings, and giving people a chance.
Some years ago, I learned about and did some volunteering for Fetch-a-Cure, an initiative working to research and cure dog cancer. I reflected that there’s a lot of time and money being spent to cure pets, but not to cure people. And without effective plans for reentry, people coming out of the Richmond City Justice Center might as well be in a cage; the reentry landscape is just that cruel, especially for people battling substance abuse.
In my own life, I’ve had the chance to glimpse how easily life can be undone by drugs. Last year, I had my knee replaced, and I was put on oxycodone. I needed it; oxycodone allowed me to manage tremendous pain and do rehab. But let me tell you, it’s highly addictive. If I wasn’t cognizant of that fact and didn’t have a family looking after me, I could be locked up at the Justice Center right now—or on heroin, or dead. It’s an incredibly powerful drug, and it helped me to see that staying away from prescription drug abuse isn’t easy. When I sit across from someone who is incarcerated, I know that he could just as easily be me. Why did God steer me this way instead of that way? I don’t know. And that’s why I do what I do.
I started getting involved in reentry issues two or three years ago. I’ve been in the auto sales industry for 33 years, and worked with people who committed felonies. I’ve seen the bad things that can happen to people who get on the wrong track. But through programs like The Healing Place at CARITAS and counseling at the Richmond City Justice Center, I have also seen real opportunities to create hope and stable futures for people reentering society. I have done mock interviews with incarcerated men preparing for reentry, including coaching on how to confidently and directly acknowledge the difficult facts of their past. And we’ve hired two formerly incarcerated people here. They’ve been some of our best workers.
When it comes to hiring felons, business owners are scared of the unknown: I really do not believe that this is an issue of race. There’s just fear of the unknown, so I go out and speak to folks like myself to try to change minds.
Now, as a business person, I cannot omit the job application question asking about past convictions, because I would open myself up to liability issues. It’s a matter of risk. If the state legislature passed a law to protect businesses who hire ex-felons, then we could do more of it—and that would help in dealing with the fear of the unknown. As it stands now, the fear of the unknown plus the real liability issues make hiring of ex-offenders a difficult thing for most businesses.
There’s a shortage of available workers with the right skills for in-demand jobs in the Richmond area right now. Businesses need more trained folks than they can get. We need to make sure that more and more ex-offenders get into job training programs, and we need support from the legislature to reduce the perceived risk associated with hiring felons.
Beyond that, government doesn’t need to be involved; I don’t want financial incentives to hire people who have been in jail. I shouldn’t need financial incentives. As I said, we’re talking about human beings. But I’m not the typical business person, so I’m trying to convince others that this is important. And it can be very good for business.
When business owners tell me that they worry about hiring felons because they might get ripped off, I tell them about my experiences with theft and fraud. It has happened here, probably ten times. But the people who stole from us were the ones with no prior records, the ones we thought were smart and clean, the ones we thought were our friends. They were also the ones in bad situations that caused them to want to steal. People don't steal just for fun. If you hire a qualified person who is doing the right things in their life, then there's really no risk.
Not only that, but folks who have done time are used to being told when to wake, when to sleep, when to work, when to eat—they're used to being told what to do all day long. It's not unlike employees who are veterans. They're great at following direction. I tell business owners: at the least, interview felons and see how they compare to other candidates. We need to give these people a chance.
— interviewed July 11, 2016