Berkshire Eagle 
September 28, 2023  
Jane Kaufman, Community Voices Editor


PITTSFIELD — With recommendations from the sheriff’s department, Sammy Centaio landed a job at LTI Smart Glass in January 2016 starting at $10 an hour shortly after leaving jail.

Since then he’s been promoted and is now making $24 an hour and is third from top in his company.

While not unique, Centaio’s experience is unusual.

Most people with a criminal record — even what’s known as a “cloudy CORI” — don’t find work easily in the private sector in Berkshire County. A criminal record of any kind, which is listed on the state’s Criminal Online Record Information registry, can kill the possibility of landing an entry-level job.

This fall, there’s a collaborative effort to try to open up job opportunities for people who are like Centaio but haven’t been as fortunate in finding work: First by educating business owners on hiring and supporting people who have been involved in the criminal justice system.

Two virtual workshops for employers are explaining how to leverage the Workforce Opportunity Tax Credit and the Federal Bonding Program. The first workshop was held Tuesday; a second will be held Oct. 18.

In addition, there are four free, in-person workshops aimed at helping people who have been incarcerated gain the skills they need to get jobs, including how to talk about their criminal records, effective resume writing and preparing for interviews. These “client-readiness workshops” are taking place at 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Oct. 11, Oct. 18, Oct. 25 and Nov. 1, at 264 Second St. in Pittsfield.

The workshops aimed at both employers and prospective employees will culminate in Berkshire County’s first Second Chances Job and Resources Fair from 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at Paterson Field House.

Any prospective employee may attend the job fair, but organizers hope that people who have been involved in the criminal justice system, perhaps including jail time, will attend.

For Employers

A virtual workshop will be offered Oct. 18 at 1 p.m. for employers on how to leverage the Workforce Opportunity Tax Credit and the Federal Bonding Program.

Register here for either the workshop or to participate at the job fair Nov. 8 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Paterson Field House at 350 West St., on the campus of Berkshire Community College.

For Job Seekers

A series of in-person workshops is being offered at 4 p.m. Wednesdays at Second Street Second Chances located at 264 Second St. in Pittsfield: 

  • Tips for Attending a Job Fair: Oct. 11
  • How to Talk About Your CORI: Oct. 18
  • Writing an Effective Resume: Oct. 25
  • Preparing for Your Interview: Nov. 1

To attend the workshops, register here.

Job seekers may attend the free job fair from 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 7 at Paterson Field House, 1350 West St., on the campus of Berkshire Community College, with no need to register in advance. Walk-ins are welcome.

With an ongoing labor shortage that has affected businesses and employers throughout Berkshire County, the timing seemed ripe now for this sort of event, said Jason Cuyler, executive director of 2nd Street Second Chances, which helps people transition from life in jail to the community. Members of the sheriff’s department, going all the way up to Sheriff Thomas Bowler, have long hoped to hold something like it.

“And we have a large population of men and women that are getting released and returning to the community and are actively looking for employment,” Cuyler said.

In addition, Maureen McLaughlin, interim executive director of Workforce Development and Community Education and director of strategic initiatives at Berkshire Community College, added another reason to hold such a fair.

“We have people who are coming out of incarceration and rehabilitation programs. And we have this imperative for us to bring a more just environment and welcoming community to support these individuals,” she said. “There are Fortune 1000, 500 companies that have leaned into this. This isn’t novel necessarily. It might be to the Berkshires.”

She said Amazon and some employers in the banking industry have already begun hiring people with prior criminal records.

Cuyler explained that reading a CORI can require a bit of sophistication.

In any given CORI, it could be, “Some of the charges were committed on the same offense, some of the charges may have been dismissed,” Cuyler said. “So I just think it’s really important that we educate or help employers become more aware of what’s going on.”

Having time in jail can help to prepare people for the job market, as it did Centaio, who obtained an Occupational Safety and Health Administration certificate and a ServSafe certificate while there.

Cuyler said people incarcerated at the Berkshire House of Correction meet with a medical professional their first day in jail. They’re offered substance abuse and mental health services as well as opportunities for education, including working on a GED.

“Because once we address all those issues of substance abuse education, it’s really important for us to connect our clients to workforce development,” Cuyler said.

McLaughlin spoke to the kinds of skills people receive there.

“While they’re part of that program, they’re with a group,” she said. “They’re brought through in a cohort.”

That helps develop softer skills around things such as teamwork, difficult conversations and navigating different perspectives on how to approach problem solving “that are just as valuable if not more nowadays,” McLaughlin said.

“I went to their graduation from one of the certificate programs that we collaborate with the House of Correction,” she said. “And to be in a room with 15 or 20 individuals who have gone through this intensive training program, to shake their hands and hand them a certificate of completion is one of the highlights of my year. Heads held high and very proud, and as they should be.”

Centaio said addiction fueled the behavior that landed him to jail, and counts his time in sobriety as eight years and two months.

“Before I went to jail, I didn’t have a job,” Centaio said. “So when I was getting out, I was fortunate, because it helped me to stay occupied.”

With his fiancée, he now supports their four children.

“There’s nothing fascinating about me,” said Centaio, who declined to be photographed for this story. “The whole reason why I’m doing this is to let the next person know, whether they’re male or female, coming out of jail, that the possibilities are endless if you use the resources that are available to you.”

Since Centaio has begun work at LTI Smart Glass, he’s helped other people getting out of Berkshire House of Correction get jobs there.

“If it wasn’t for that job and being occupied, I honestly don’t know where I would be,” he said.

Read the story on the Berkshire Eagle website