Imprisoned, Rehabilitated, Unemployed 

Oakland's large population of ex-felons struggle to get jobs. And their only glimmer of hope — a certificate of rehabilitation — isn't easy to get. Just ask Hawk Aavan Jonsson.

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He stays in shape with P90X Workout videos to preserve his fitness level and a sliver of hope that he could still be a firefighter some day. He makes a little money doing odd jobs for friends. But Jonsson says going back to school isn't an option. "[I] can't really consider more education at this point because finances are so tight while living on unemployment," he said.

He thought briefly about joining the military after reading about waivers given to ex-felons. But more research revealed that the Department of Defense stopped giving what they call major misconduct waivers in the spring of 2009. Because of a combination of factors related to a declining economy, such as higher unemployment and more student loan debt, the number of recruits signing up for the army went up last year, said Mark Howell, deputy public affairs officer for the United States Army Recruiting Command.

Jonsson isn't sure what else he can do besides finding odd jobs or maybe even starting his own business using his diving skills. But a steady optimism always flies out from underneath mounting doubts about the future because it has to, he says.

"I believe that there is a much bigger purpose for me here in this world," he said. "And I definitely want to take full advantage of that."

This report is part of the News21 project at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, which concentrated on California incarceration issues this year. News21 is a Carnegie-Knight-funded initiative on the future of journalism.

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