Out of prison -- and on a payroll BALTIMORE CITY

July 20, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

Donavon Barnes' name was misspelled in a caption in yesterday's edition of The Sun.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Donavon Barnes says the next few days may be the most trying -- and enjoyable -- of his life.

Mr. Barnes was released from prison last month and he has already found a job as a printer. Now, he is trying to adjust to the pressures of everyday life after spending 12 years as an inmate. An alarm clock, bus schedules and time cards -- symbols of his new freedom -- have replaced the structured life he knew in prison. No longer is he told when to rise, when to eat and when to go to bed. The warden has been replaced by a job that will provide him with a weekly paycheck.

"I look forward to going to work. I look forward to getting paid. It's different than in prison, and that's OK," said Mr. Barnes, 32, who today begins his fourth day of work as a printer at Uptown Govans Press in North Baltimore.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"Before my first day of work, I woke up at 2, 3:30 and 5:30 in the morning thinking about work. But now I think I've got things right."

Mr. Barnes, who lives with an aunt in West Baltimore's ReservoiHill neighborhood, was released from prison on June 18 after serving a dozen years of a 16-year prison sentence for armed robbery.

When he returned to his old neighborhood, he discovered that drug trafficking and unemployment were rampant. He quickly recognized that he could wind up back in jail if he did not try to make a new life for himself.

"I searched high and low because I needed a job," said Mr. Barnes, adding: "I wanted a job and got a job. I kind of knew that I would find a job, but not as fast as I did. I was going to take anything just to have some income. But I got something that I wanted."

While in prison he learned printing through the prison's State Use Industries program. The program, run by the state's Division of Correction, prepares inmates for life on the outside by teaching them skills such as printing, meat cutting, upholstering and making metal products.

Bo Zerhusen, a coordinator with the program, helped Mr. Barnes land his job. He recalled that Mr. Barnes displayed motivation and a willingness to work while he was in prison.

During his last months in prison, Mr. Barnes began scanning newspaper help wanted ads in search of printing jobs. And after his release, he immediately went on interviews for printing jobs.

"He's a good worker and got good recommendations from the [print] shop," Mr. Zerhusen said. "That's important."

The night before his first day of work, Mr. Barnes had several bouts with anxiety. He could not sleep and arrived at his new job an hour early. The next day he overslept and arrived for work 15 minutes late. But yesterday, his third day on the job, he got a handle on his work schedule and arrived at the appointed time of 8 a.m.

Jack R. Weber Jr., president of the Uptown Govans Press, a printing company which employs about 18 people, said he had no hesitation about hiring Mr. Barnes, and has hired other former offenders.

"The thing that I liked about him is his attitude," Mr. Weber said. "He shows me a real desire to do well."

Mr. Barnes said his first days of work were trouble-free and that none of the other employees or supervisors mentioned his background.

Mr. Barnes also has enrolled at Essex Community College for the fall semester and plans to develop a program to counsel Reservoir Hill youths about drugs and the dangers of the streets.

"I can sit down with them and kick it and talk about positive things," he said.

"I can tell them that they don't have to go that way."

Mr. Barnes plotted much of the program, tentatively called "Lend An Ear, Then Maybe a Hand," while in prison and hopes to begin it next month.

"They'll listen to me and people like me who have been in the mix and through the mix," he said.

"Doing time you don't know if you're going to see another day or not. They'll listen to my experience."

As for what he will do with his first paycheck in 12 years, Mr. Barnes said, he does not have big plans. Maybe some clothes and a few groceries, he said.

"Right now all I'm thinking about is opening up a bank account and establishing some credit somewhere," he said. "I'm content. Things are getting better."

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