Jefferson Award Winner Founded Jails To JobsBy Allen Martin

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) Eric Muñoz is job hunting. But the formerly incarcerated San Francisco resident has had a big barrier to getting work: his tattoos, a 20-year-old reminder of a past he left behind long ago.

“That is a chapter of my life that I want completely erased,” explained Muñoz. “Because that is not me no more and it hasn’t been me for a long time.”

Now Muñoz is getting his ink removed, with the help of Mark Drevno.

“These tattoos themselves are the biggest impediment to getting a job,” said Drevno. “If you’ve got a visual, anti-social, or gang related tattoo, they are real job stoppers.”

The former high tech hiring manager has made it his life’s work to help previously incarcerated job hunters like Muñoz. Drevno created the non-profit Jails to Jobs, after his own experience with one special applicant.

“I got a call one day,” recalled Drevno. “Somebody wanted to apply for a job. And he said that he just wanted to tell me that he’d been previously incarcerated. ‘I am a recovering drug addict and I want to come in and apply for a job but I just want to make sure you don’t hold that against me.'”

Drevno so was impressed by the man’s honesty, he hired him.

“Good sales people are hard to find,” said Drevno. “So I thought I am going to find some other diamonds in the rough like this fellow.”

Now eight years later, Drevno’ s Jails to Jobs offers referrals to 300 health care providers and clinics in 42 states, who are providing free and low-cost tattoo removal to individuals who’ve spent time in jail. Clients like Ellia Villanueva must go through a Jails to Jobs tattoo removal application process, then commit to multiple sessions with private providers who donate their services.

“This has given me another chance to be a different person, “said Villanueva. “And now I have a chance to be a different person for my grandson.”

Doctors who volunteer their services, like plastic Surgeon Dr. Shahin Javahari, say they are proud to be part of this process.

“These are people who really want to get back into society,” said Javahari. “And what better way than I can do to help is this?”

Parole Supervisor Martin Figueroa says in the last two years, nearly 200 of his formerly incarcerated clients have had their tattoos removed through Jails to Jobs’ referral program.

The National Institute of Justice reports that within three years of being released, nearly 70% of parolees will be re-arrested. With those numbers in mind, Figueroa is adamant that not having visible tattoos is key to staying employed and staying out of jail.

“It is absolutely critical that you get those tattoos removed in order to maintain gainful employment,” explained Figueroa. “Otherwise you are just not going to be successful.”

In addition to the referrals for tattoo removal, through Jails to Jobs, Drevno also gives free seminars for job seekers, and he’s written two books on the subject, geared towards helping folks like Eric Muñoz succeed.

So for helping previously incarcerated individuals get a fresh start, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Mark Drevno.

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