LAFAYETTE — For seven years, Mark Drevno has traversed America’s jails and prisons, talking to thousands of inmates about how to build a better life on the outside.
Drevno is the CEO of Jails to Jobs, a Lafayette-based nonprofit that’s dedicated to helping those former inmates build job skills and find work. Drevno authored a how-to book that’s gained widespread praise as a template for formerly incarcerated people seeking work. But the group’s biggest hit, according to criminal justice experts, is the creation of a comprehensive database of places that offer cheap, accessible tattoo removal services.
“I’d go in and do these job search workshops, and see all these visible, neck, face, and head tattoos,” Drevno said. “That’s such a barrier to employment.”
Jails to Jobs’ database covers 43 states and more than 250 locations. It took many years to compile, and a lot of the locations were near-impossible to find online, Drevno said. He’s also building a network of local tattoo removal practitioners with the hopes of being the go-between for people with offensive tattoos and those who can take them off for cheap.
“For me, this is a contribution to try and help somebody,” said Dr. Shahin Javaheri, a plastic surgeon whose office recently joined Jails to Jobs’ network. “My philosophy in life is that everybody deserves a second chance.”
Drevno’s work has attracted heavyweights in the criminal justice world, like Robert Hood, a retired warden of four prisons who ended his career running Colorado’s notorious federal supermax facility, the most secured prison in the United States. Hood said that existing programs in prison cover job skills, education, and religion, but largely fail to address the “obvious piece” of tattoo removal — a problem, given the prevalence of gang-related, offensive, or simply intimidating tattoos.
“You can get your doctorate degree in prison, but if you go out and have the potentially offensive tattoos showing, mostly likely you’re not going to get the job,” Hood said. “It doesn’t have to be the f-word or a teardrop; it can just be a razor or a syringe.”
When Drevno made his first trip to jail years ago, it wasn’t to dish out salvation, but to seek talent. Drevno was a hiring rep for a tech company who realized that inmates were a potential talent pool that other companies were overlooking. It started when he hired a former inmate in 2000 who turned out to be an amazing salesman. It changed his perspective.
Drevno began doing regular presentations at West Contra Costa’s jail. But soon he realized it wasn’t the search for sales reps, rather a desire to help others, that kept calling him to return.
“Within about three or four months, the self-serving piece of it just went away,” Drevno said. “I realized these people were really no different than I was, and while of course there are people who should never leave prison, many are incarcerated because of crimes of poverty, mental illness, or drug addiction.”
Hood spent a career seeing the same faces return to prison time and time again. But while recidivism rates in the U.S. are infamously high, it’s also true that 95 percent of America’s 2.2 million prison inmate population will be released at some point, Hood said.
“You might not like what they did but they’re coming back to your neighborhood,” Hood said. The solution, he said, is, “taking the … people who really do want to get out and make a difference, and realizing what are the real obstacles to employment.”
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