Many people are looking for work and have been for months. The Texas Workforce Commission says it takes an average of 37 weeks to find a job. For those with a felony conviction, the job search can be even harder.

Cove House Executive Director Benjamin Tindall said hiring a felon can result in an even better employee.

“Through our experience, we learn. We become a better and stronger person. Prison is no exception,” Tindall said. “I hire (former convicts) because of their past rather than in spite of it.”

When Tindall interviewed Belinda Parilla, now the shelter’s resident manager, she had recently been released from prison.

“But she had a passion and a heart for what we do here. It was the Esther story ..., ” Tindall said, referring to the biblical account. “Send the others away because she was exactly what we wanted.”

Mary Claire Huslage, Cove House volunteer coordinator, volunteered at the facility after being incarcerated. She was later hired full time after Tindall saw her strong work performance.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics says about 77 percent of felony criminals are repeat offenders. Many inmates report having difficulty finding work and say they are then forced back into criminal activity in order to survive.

Jory Enck, of Copperas Cove, spent three years in prison for burglary. While incarcerated, he obtained his GED.

“I was just a kid, and I made some dumb decisions,” Enck said. “I was still in high school when I was arrested and then went to prison.”

Enck got a minimum wage job washing dishes at Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant and has worked there since November.

“I am trying to better myself and get pointed in the right direction,” Enck said. “My outlook on life is pretty positive. I just have to make good decisions.”

Tindall advises other employers — when reviewing applications from former convicts — to be willing to take a chance on them.

“When we don’t hire someone for the sole reason that they have been in prison or have a felony, we often miss out on a quality individual,” Tindall said.

“Rather than dismissal, I ask them how they have learned from the experience and what they got from it.”

Tindall said because of their experiences, Huslage and Parilla can empathize with Cove House’s clients in ways others can’t, which is a blessing to the organization. Huslage’s and Parilla’s stories of how they rebuilt their lives are below.

Contact Wendy Sledd at or (254) 501-7476

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