One-time cheer­leader and drug dealer now puts felons to work

Jamaica Gleaner - - WELLI -

DAL­LAS (AP): HERI GAR­CIA be­lieves in sec­ond chances. The 29year-old Dal­las en­tre­pre­neur and pub­li­cist had more than her fair share be­fore turn­ing her life around.

Gar­cia, a for­mer cheer­leader at The Colony High School, dealt metham­phetamine to pay for her own habit but never got caught.

She was ar­rested for steal­ing, driv­ing while in­tox­i­cated and so many other lesser in­frac­tions that she lost count. Yet she never did time. “If you were to pull up my record, the only thing you’d find is a DWLS – driv­ing while li­cence sus­pended – in 2007,” she told The Dal­las Morn­ing News. “There was some white priv­i­lege there, hon­estly. That’s why I do what I do now.”

A few months ago, Gar­cia launched Corn­bread Hus­tle, a staffing agency for con­victed felons. She and her op­er­a­tions man­ager, Michael El­liott, have al­ready placed more than 30 for­mer in­mates, pri­mar­ily in lawn care, con­struc­tion and bak­ery jobs.

Corn­bread Hus­tle is a for-profit en­ter­prise that typ­i­cally takes a buck or two of a staffer’s hourly in­come, but of­ten pro­vides trans­porta­tion to and from work and tries to iron out the con­flict­ing de­mands of pa­role of­fi­cers and em­ploy­ers. Most of the jobs pay $11 or $12 per hour.

While the com­pany is early-stage, Gar­cia says it’s al­ready mak­ing money – thanks to free rent – and gain­ing trac­tion.

Vol­un­teer of Amer­ica Texas, a non-profit res­i­den­tial pris­oner reen­try pro­gramme, wants Gar­cia to help 250 men and women at its half­way house near the Hutchins State Jail, says Jen­nifer Leney, chief devel­op­ment of­fi­cer, adding that

Cthis is the first step of many be­ing ex­plored. “Cheri’s great. We’re really ex­cited.”

And thanks to fel­low en­trepreneurs with soft hearts, Corn­bread Hus­tle has more jobs that Gar­cia could fill if pa­role of­fi­cers were more flex­i­ble and if she had a way to pay for more driv­ers.

“When I work with these guys, I see how hard it is,” Gar­cia says. “I’m try­ing to get them a job, but their pa­role of­fi­cer won’t let them go to the job site be­cause of an­kle­mon­i­tor re­stric­tions.”

Only one has bombed out. “He sucked at mow­ing lawns,” she says.

“If you’re the first per­son to give them a chance on the out­side, they don’t want to let you down. It’s a per­sonal thing,” she says. “Em­bar­rass­ing me in front of an em­ployer would shat­ter their world.”

Gar­cia re­cently shared her story with the Huff­in­g­ton Post and on Steve Har­vey’s tele­vi­sion show. But she kept the story of her check­ered past quiet around Dal­las.

I’ve worked with Gar­cia on sev­eral col­umns but had no idea of her early strug­gles un­til re­cently.

“I grew up su­per­priv­i­leged,” she says. “My mom and dad worked for Sprint, and both made six fig­ures. We had a nice house in The Colony in a nice neigh­bour­hood.”

Cheri was ar­rested for shoplift­ing at 13 and got a slap on the wrist, then again at 15, when she was sent to ju­ve­nile jail. Her par­ents let her spend Thanks­giv­ing week­end be­hind bars, hop­ing to shock some sense into her.

But Cheri was more wor­ried about get­ting kicked off the cheer­lead­ing squad than chang­ing her ways.

Her home life be­gan to crumble in her ju­nior year as her par­ents headed into di­vorce.

“I had heard about meth and some­body told me that it makes you lose weight, stay up late, have en­ergy and get good grades. And I was like, ‘Who wouldn’t want that?’ I tried it once and did it ev­ery sin­gle day after that day for two years.”

Drug deal­ers gave her prod­uct if she sucked in oth­ers. “Frisco soc­cer moms, as sad as that is, were my best cus­tomers be­cause they were too scared to get out and get it them­selves. But they wanted to clean the house all day and be pro­duc­tive and be wired,” she says.

Gar­cia, who was Cheri Chafin back then, moved into her own apart­ment when she was a se­nior. She got busted for mar­i­juana after a neigh­bour com­plained about the smell. Since she’d smoked all her weed, the po­lice of­fi­cer didn’t ar­rest her, but he re­ported the in­ci­dent to her high school.

She got kicked off the cheer­lead­ing squad and had to do com­mu­nity ser­vice to get her diploma.

“But no­body sus­pected that I was on metham­phetamine,” she says. “They just thought, ‘Man, she’s los­ing her damn mind.’”

In 2007, Gar­cia says she had a har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence when she had a toxic re­ac­tion to tak­ing methadone, hop­ing to come down from a meth high. She awak­ened to the re­al­i­sa­tion that her mother might have found her dead in her up­stairs bed­room.

“God gave me the sec­ond chance – not the courts, not any­one else. God gave me a sec­ond chance. From that day on, I never did drugs again,” she says.


Or­gan­is­ers Michael El­liott and Cheri Gar­cia pose for a por­trait dur­ing a Corn­bread Hus­tle event on Tues­day, Au­gust 16, in Dal­las. Corn­bread Hus­tle is a staffing agency that places re­leased con­victs. It is is a for-profit en­ter­prise that typ­i­cally takes a buck or two of a staffer’s hourly in­come, but of­ten pro­vides trans­porta­tion to and from work and tries to iron out the con­flict­ing de­mands of pa­role of­fi­cers and em­ploy­ers.

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