When They Become Us


To say we were giddy about interviewing someone connected to the movie "Wolf of Wall Street" would be the understatement of the year. Yet, here we are. And why is Richard Bronson, a former partner at the "Wolf of Wall Street" firm talking to Chad & Cheese?


Turns out he runs a site dedicated to finding employment for former felons called 70MillionJobs.com. It's important work that turns out to be one helluva podcast. Most interestingly, the impact on The Great Resignation as it pertains to job seekers with a criminal record isn't going as anyone expected.

This one's a must-listen. Enjoy.


PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION sponsored by:

Disability Solutions is your RPO partner for the disability community, from source to hire.


INTRO (1s):

Hide your kids lock the doors. You're listening to HR is most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry, right where it hurts complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark buckle up boys and girls.

Joel (21s):

Oh yeah. What's up everybody. It's your favorite guilty pleasure. Also known as the Chad and Cheese podcast. I'm your co-host Joel Cheesman joined as always by my partner in crime, Chad Sowash and today we're just giddy, giddy, giddy, like a schoolgirl to welcome Richard Bronson to the show. Richard welcome. You are the founder and CEO of 70millionjobs.com. Thanks for joining us.


Richard (51s):

Thank you so much for having me guys.


Chad (54s):

Are we right in saying Charles Bronson's little brother? Is that why you're on the show? Is that what's going on here?


Joel (1m 1s):

Let's age everybody on the show, real quick


Richard (1m 5s):

Half brother.


Joel (1m 5s):

I'm going to rattle his cage


Richard (1m 9s):

Actually far more frequently the mistake is in confusing me with Richard Branson.


Joel (1m 14s):

That was my next joke but you beat me to it.


Richard (1m 17s):

It's a good joke, but yeah, I'm not him.


Chad (1m 21s):

I like death wish better than I do a millionaires go into space. But that being said, Richard, do us a favor give us a little more, in-depth maybe Twitter bio of who you are and a little bit about the 70 million jobs.


Richard (1m 34s):

Great. I'm speaking to you from Miami.


Joel (1m 37s):

So sexy.


Richard (1m 38s):

Yeah. Well sometimes I think of Indiana at much the same way guys.


Chad (1m 44s):

Lies.


Richard (1m 44s):

I launched my company 70 million jobs about five years ago. It is the first national for-profit employment platform for people with criminal records. We have helped thousands of deserving men and women with records, land jobs.


Chad (2m 0s):

OK.


Richard (2m 1s):

Certainly there is a backward backstory to how I got involved with that.


Chad (2m 4s):

Yes, that's what I want to know. So not just anybody gets involved into a job board staffing in this HR space. So what actually drove you to, to give a shit about this population in the first place? Because to be quite Frank here in the US I mean, there's not enough give a shit. I think about helping individuals who've been incarcerated. So why did, why did you care so much?


Richard (2m 28s):

I'm from New York. I used to work on Wall Street and I had a great deal of success working at some big investment banks. At a certain point I actually became a partner at the infamous Wolf of Wall Street firm that I'm sure you're familiar with.


Chad (2m 48s):

Yes.


Richard (2m 49s):

In answer to your, what you're wondering. Yeah. It was pretty much as crazy as it was depicted in the Scorsese film.


Joel (2m 57s):

Which character were you exactly?


Richard (2m 58s):

I appeared in the book, but I was not directly a character. Thank God, but I certainly, they were my partners, you know, and I was part and parcel of the mayhem. I left there and moved to Florida where I launched my own financial services firm. And I grew it into a very large business and I made sick amount of money, but along the way, I broke some laws, out of my greed and stupidity and impatience. And I paid dearly for those transgressions aside from losing everything I had, I lost family. I lost friends. And ultimately I lost my freedom. I spent a couple of years in a federal prison.


Richard (3m 40s):

When I came out of prison, I had less than nothing. I was destitute and homeless, but I had discovered my calling in life and that was to help my brothers and sisters coming out of prison so that they may have more opportunities than I did. And it became my calling in life. I worked for a time at a prominent non-profit organization, devoted to re-entry and became its director. But I was dissatisfied with the lack of impact we were having. There is a three out of four chance that someone who's released from jail or prison will be arrested again, 75%.


Richard (4m 20s):

So, and it turns out that unemployment correlates directly with recidivism. If you don't get a job, you will go back to prison. If you do get a job, you almost never get in trouble again. So it was pretty clear to me. I thought, you know, something let's do things very differently. No one's ever approached re-entry as a for-profit thing, it's always been the sleepy well-meaning non-profits or governmental agencies, you know, that have handled this. It's sort of like if the department of motor vehicles was handling re-entry, you know, you wouldn't expect such great results, but the reality is, is one out of three adults in this country have a record.


Richard (5m 4s):

So it's a huge, huge issue. And it's one that I chose to take on a head-on as you know, the theme of my life.


Joel (5m 13s):

Does a typical customer look like. I mean, I have some certain industries that you probably target, but what is are they big companies, little companies. Tell me about your customers.


Richard (5m 23s):

Well, we have a two-sided marketplace, so customers are job seekers with records on one side, but you're asking about the employers?


Joel (5m 33s):

Correct.


Richard (5m 34s):

We targeted from day one, the largest employers in the United States for no better reason than sort of like Willie Sutton's said, when asked why he robbed banks. He said, well, that's where the money is. Large employers have large numbers of available positions. And my goal when I set out was, part of it was because it sounded good, but I wanted to help a million people get jobs. So you can't do that with working with small companies, you got to work with big ones. And that's what we targeted. Specifically industry-wise there are certain industries that have long been relatively hospitable to this population, warehousing shipping, manufacturing, big box, retail, hospitality.


Richard (6m 23s):

You know, those are the industries that don't require a great deal of educational background or job experience. And they have lots and lots of jobs. So that is primarily where we had the greatest amount of success.


Chad (6m 37s):

So right out of the gates, I really want to jump into the problem that we have in this country and why this is so important. First and foremost, the United States has 5% of the global population. And yet we have 25% that's 2-5, 25% of the incarcerated population. So that being said, we're obviously arresting a hell of a lot more than everybody else out there. And those individuals do need to come back for the most part into society, right? So there's a huge need here. Not to mention, let's take a look at today's landscape.


Chad (7m 20s):

We're always talking about how we cannot find people to do jobs. And yet we have rules and legislation where we have ban the box, which is not something that has happened nationally. Right? So what are you and your organization doing not only to be able to help and impact on the outcome side, but also perspectively to help with pushing better regulation? Are you guys a part of that? Are you, are you with any lobby groups? How does that work?


Richard (7m 51s):

You've raised a lot of good points. What we do is this, when I first started the company there, we amassed a huge pool of job seekers. You know, we had millions of them, you know, folks all over the United States who had committed a wide range of crimes who are eager to get a job. And unfortunately, the demand for their services was not all that robust. Through our education, through me speaking to so many heads of so many of the largest employers, from me being a keynote speaker at Sherms national convention, talking about fair chance hiring an education process began.


Richard (8m 48s):

And this was coupled with changes in the Zeit Geist in this country regarding issues of black lives matter, you know, and, you know, social equity injustices and imbalances, and sort of where the company, the country has been moving. It's all created this perfect storm whereby more and more people became familiar with the problems and became sort of desensitized. It used to be that people in prison are monsters lock them up forever. But when the country engaged in the war on drugs in the eighties and the nineties, we started seeing every family was being impacted by the criminal justice system, because uncles and aunts and college kids were getting arrested for dealing pot and all kinds of stuff.


Richard (9m 39s):

And it was no longer them versus us. It was them became us. And when that happens, you gotta, you know, it's cognitive dissonance, you gotta, something's gotta give. So people started looking at things a lot differently and with a lot more, you know, open mind, which is great. We were having stunning success for us as a small business. You know, we weren't this huge organization at this stage. We were a tech startup, but we were having more success, getting people jobs than any other venture of any sort. But then the Corona virus hit. And we had other plans for us because virtually overnight in March of 2020 companies laid off all of our people.


Richard (10m 26s):

We had a very, very popular staffing business. Where were we serve as the hire of record, of course, and overnight, they laid off everybody working in every warehouse, every manufacturing facility, you know, things were being shut down. And these are jobs, obviously that can't be worked that from home. So in a year and a half, our revenue plummeted, which was fairly devastating. Now, after a year and a half, as the economy started coming back, a very weird thing happened, the whole paradigm shifted and all of a sudden we're getting more demand from employers and we have less interested in working as part of the great resignation among our job seekers.


Richard (11m 12s):

So we are swamped with big companies who are desperate to fill millions of jobs. And we have job seekers who don't want to work, or if they do work, they work for three days and then they leave. And it made it impossible for us to make money in that sort of situation. So it has been an incredibly challenging couple of years as it has been for many businesses, you know, and we hope things will normalize, you know, while we're still here and while we can, you know, enjoy that normalization, but it's been a challenge.


Chad (11m 49s):

You're still seeing challenges, even though there's a huge need in the market. We hear companies talking about how they can't find anybody to do, you know, their shitty job for a shitty wage.


Richard (12m 2s):

Yes.


Chad (12m 2s):

But yet they still, I mean, you're still not seeing a need in the market to try to get people into those jobs, or is it a supply side thing? I mean, where's the biggest problem?


Richard (12m 17s):

I think it is a counter intuitive sociological phenomenon whereby I don't know how people are supporting themselves if they don't have a job, it's not like these were, you know, some explanation is given by economists that it's retired people who are deciding screw it. I don't want to work anymore. You know, that's where some of that great resignation comes from, but, you know, it used to be that if there was a job available, we would make one phone call or one email to a job seeker to alert them of it. They would jump on the opportunity, they'd get to work the next day and they would live happily ever after. And incidentally, as Sherm points out in their annual surveys they do, these people do really well on the job.


Richard (13m 3s):

So that was great for our business. Everybody won. But now for us to fill one position, it might take 10 phone calls or 10 emails. And the applicant is negotiating, you know, the wages which they never ever did before. You know, this being the lower end of the wage scale. And then, and then again, as I say, they show up and two days later they quit. So we ended up having to hire five people for that one job. It just does not add up to, you know, good business. Unfortunately.


Chad (13m 37s):

I'm blown away by that. Chad, I don't know. I expected him to say it's the golden age of my business, because these people are getting hired. I never expected you to say, they're just like everyone else. They don't want to go back to work either, or they're doing other things, right.


Richard (13m 53s):

I couldn't agree with you more. It's something, you know, just as I had no way of expecting that we'd have a pandemic. And then I had no way of expecting how long this thing is going to drag on. And then arguably, it's continuing.


Joel (14m 7s):

That blows my mind, especially that they get the job and then they leave.


Richard (14m 14s):

So a worker's empowerment sort of thing, you know, where quality of life and work life balance. And, and then you have other employers out there, big employers, like, you know, Amazon or Walmart, offering a lot more that's out there and feel, you know, you're talking about jobs that really, they don't pay much. They're not very glamorous for sure. You have limited upside. So it's not that inspiring. And you know, again, that's a new attitude that we hadn't seen before.


Chad (14m 49s):

So for your business, I mean, that's not a great attitude, but overall for somebody who's been behind bars in a very small cell for years when they get out, I think they probably understand that they only have so much time left on this earth and this very existence means a lot to them. So I guess the big question is if we're seeing that shift, is there going to be a shift in your business to be able to move from low wage jobs, to perspectively like developer jobs or things of that nature where you're actually going through manufacturing talent for the biggest companies in the world?


Richard (15m 28s):

Yeah. It's a, it's a great point. And we have done more of that middle range jobs. We've partnered with different online learning companies. We have believe in our, you know, in our pool of job seekers, which is vast, we have all types. We have doctors, lawyers in the bay area. We have developers, you know, and then there's the issue of what is the crime that they committed? Pretty much every company in the United States with the notable exception of just a couple, they have very strict as, you know, very strict parameters of what they can and cannot accept regarding backgrounds.


Richard (16m 14s):

For example, someone who's committed a very violent crime or murder someone who's committed a sexual crime. These people are virtually unemployable, which really begs the question. All right, they come out of 95% of people in prison are going to be released at some point, what happens to them? And if they can't get a job or a home or whatever, but if they can't get a job, then what alternatives have they, other than to break the law again? I mean, they have to eat.


Chad (16m 43s):

Yes.


Richard (16m 43s):

They have to very often they have families, you know, where you probably wouldn't even blame them for doing what they have to do.


Joel (16m 50s):

Do you have any sense for, like, we talk about the gig economy a lot on the show are a lot of, like, if I'm convicted of murder or any kind of serious felony, do Door Dash and Uber and Lyft and all these gig economy platforms, do they also deny sort of that opportunity to people of violent felonies convictions?


Richard (17m 16s):

Yes, very much so.


Joel (17m 18s):

Okay.


Richard (17m 18s):

We'll one in general and every opportunity I have to say this, I jump on tech companies pretty much suck as it relates to what we call fair chance hiring.


Chad (17m 30s):

Oh yeah.


Richard (17m 30s):

They talk a good game. You know, they act like they're progressive and enlightened and you know, all that stuff. But in reality, they do almost no, you know, fair chance hiring of second chances. If they do it, they do it as a pilot program with three people and they make sure that their PR department blows it up, so it's like the biggest news, but in reality, it's, I suspect it's the equivalent of giving up a homeless person in San Francisco a dollar and thinking of curing homelessness. Well, the answer is they do a terrible job on top of that.


Richard (18m 11s):

You know, they're very cognizant of the optics. They have people, if you're out knocking on somebody's door, delivering their Chinese food. And if someone, a bad actor, you know, screws up, it could be one in a million, but that will get headlines and it'll be really bad for Door Dash. So, and that's their, you know, justification for it.


Joel (18m 35s):

So they're all running background checks obviously.


Richard (18m 37s):

Oh yeah, everybody does. Everybody runs background checks. You know, you can sort of understand it, but, but what is equally counter-intuitive is the fact that these folks, people with records in general do incredibly well on the job. As I said, we're, Sherms, you know, Society for Human Resource Management. We have their fair chance hiring partner. And every year they do a survey of their members about fair chance hiring. And what's been their experience more than 80% of hiring managers that they poll report that the quality of hire when they hire someone with a record is as good as if not better than hiring somebody without a record, it's actually better.


Richard (19m 20s):

And the retention is better. So that was a fucking home run in the HR world. If there ever was one, we get a good worker who sticks around.


Joel (19m 28s):

I think that's the first time a guest dropped the F bomb before we did that makes me so happy.


Chad (19m 39s):

I fucking love it. So Richard, I, again, I understand, I mean the loyalty, the retention, and I guess the thing that really bothers me about, well, not just the bro culture, Silicon Valley, looking down their nose at everybody. Right. But also of HR and companies overall is they're waiting for these mystic individuals to pop up with the exact skill sets that they want and need, right? Instead of manufacturing them themselves. And I think that again, the loyalty factor, the retention factor, and then the ability to actually train these individuals to do something more than a low wage position seems like, again, I use your as a fucking home run, right?


Richard (20m 34s):

Yeah. I mean, if you consider that the cost of incarceration or reincarceration is spectacular, get this in New York City, it costs about $400,000 a year to incarcerate somebody in a place like Rikers Island, $400 grand. The average nationally is about a hundred grand a year now. So it's not like there's not a huge amount of money that's being spent in the space. In fact, hundreds of billions are spent annually on criminal justice, precious little is spent on training so that when people get out, which 95% will, they actually have some skills, some pathway to do the right set, it blows my mind.


Richard (21m 24s):

You know, what's the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? blows my mind that it's not. So crystal clear that unless you're giving someone the tools to get a job? Attitudes, the first thing they have to be able to do is do the job. That's the old way it's sustainable. It has to work in, in the capitalist market system, you know, nonprofits help a few people, but to really address the 70 million Americans with criminal records, if they had the tools, if they learned to HVAC, if they learned how to code, if they learned there's a million jobs that we're desperate for, I'll give you one, that's going to blow your mind.


Richard (22m 8s):

Yeah. You know, if you're out in the west coast, you're not reading, you're smelling and seeing all of these forest fires. Right?


Chad (22m 17s):

Right.


Richard (22m 18s):

Do you know that in the state of California, they go into the prisons and they get volunteers to work, to help put out these fires. Okay? And people, you know, lots and lots of the people who are incarcerated choose to get involved with doing this. Sure. You know, that once they're released, they can't get the license to actually work, you know, on a fire at a fire department, helping put out fires? Blows your mind, right?


Chad (22m 48s):

Yes.


Richard (22m 49s):

Prisoners to put themselves in harm's way. But now they want to actually earn a living, take care of their family, pay the taxes, pay rent. Sorry. We can't take you. So, you know, these stories, they're not apocryphal. They're all over the place. You know, and they don't make any sense at all and you're left at the end of the day, wondering, well, what, what did you expect was going to happen?


Chad (23m 19s):

So what does the landscape look like moving forward? Do you see this evolving into companies, working directly with organizations like yours to get individuals ready so that when they do become part of society again, that they do have that solid transition, that fluid transition into a job?


Richard (23m 39s):

I believe that in general things have improved. I was released from prison in 2005. So that's about 16, 17 years ago. And there has been a sea of change in attitude from that point to now.


Chad (23m 52s):

Right.


Richard (23m 52s):

So, you know, I'm particularly the last couple of years, again, with black lives matter, you know, it's like two thirds of my brothers and sisters in prison are people of color. So, you know, we're definitely seeing improvement albeit at a glacial pace. But nonetheless, you know, over time it's happening. Part of the problem exists that training people is not terribly scalable. Some of it can be done online, but then you're talking about, you know, people have to have laptops and three quarters of people who come out of prison don't have access to a laptop or a desktop computer.


Richard (24m 36s):

So how do they take a class? You know, I think it's happening. And I think there's opportunity. And I think there's commercial opportunity to be involved in their training. And that's something that I'm keenly interested in, you know, but it takes a lot of money to get it going, but I think that's what has to happen and the needs exist. You know, there are certain jobs that we have hundreds of, thousands of people are available positions for them, you know, you know, but they need to be trained to do it. That's typically where government gets involved on that sort of, you know, big infrastructure level.


Richard (25m 17s):

I thought that if Biden could get this infrastructure bill passed, that that would create a huge amount of opportunity. Well, God only knows if that's ever going to happen.


Joel (25m 26s):

Whenever we do an interview like this, I generally go to the website and just sort of poke around and see any, anything interesting that I could find. One of the things that stood out to me, a couple of things actually, but I wanted to ask kind of maybe a dumb question, your headline reads on the site, misdemeanor and felony friendly jobs. I don't think that as an outsider, looking in, I ever thought that folks with misdemeanors had issues. Can you, can you talk about the division between misdemeanors and felonies and, how your database is divided and is that a big issue having misdemeanors and getting employment?


Richard (26m 3s):

Well, certainly, you know, there are more opportunities for people who have merely a misdemeanor versus a felony. And then within the Pantheon of felonies, you could commit, there's a wide range of crimes that people commit and you know, the most violent or sexual crimes again, render people virtually unemployable. We try to have integrity when we say that they're misdemeanor or felony friendly, because very often a job seeker with a record finds some resource that says, there's a job. There they go through, you know, the considerable effort to apply, which typically means they had to create a resume that they didn't have.


Richard (26m 45s):

And they had to get the clothes to wear for an interview. And they had to get transportation, which wasn't easy and you know, on and on. It's a challenge for them in ways you'd never would consider. And then they go on the interview and they're prepared and they do their very best, but it turns out they don't get the job because the company in a million years just wasn't going to hire them based upon the background. And if you imagine, if you are a middle aged man or woman, you know, particularly with a family and you're going on 10 interviews like this. Every interview, you go on is one step lower because you're willing to more consider something that initially you didn't think you'd have to consider right?


Richard (27m 30s):

Here you are at McDonald's in Galveston, Texas with a minimum wage is I think $7.35 an hour. And McDonald's doesn't want to hire you full-time cause they have to give you benefits. So the job is for like 30 hours a week, and you being interviewed by some 17 year old kid who looks at your resume and says, no. I mean, imagine your self esteem, you couldn't even get a job at $7.35 an hour making, taking home $140 a week or whatever. And you can't even get that. Imagine just psychologically what that would do to you to a part.


Richard (28m 10s):

I mean, it's, I can't even imagine that?


Chad (28m 14s):

You can only understand why they have to go back to the life of crime. I mean.


Richard (28m 24s):

No alternatives. Yeah. It is a myth.


Joel (28m 26s):

Well, it almost sounds better.


Richard (28m 27s):

Well, it's almost better. It's a whole lot better not having any money is objectively the negative baseline. You have a family that needs to eat. So anything that, you know, they can give you begging is better than not then people starving. But, but it's a myth because it's all people who easily will say, well, you know, these are people, they're animals. That's all they ever want to be in is in prison. Like those are all like old myths. You know that like our great grandparents may have thought, but it's not true. Trust me nobody wants to be in prison. Nobody, you know, other than like 12 totally psychotic people, maybe.


Richard (29m 9s):

I don't know. Well, other than that, nobody wants to be in prison.


Joel (29m 14s):

Prison. Another follow-up from the website is you have something called the commissary club?


Richard (29m 20s):

Yes!


Joel (29m 20s):

I don't know if that's like a LinkedIn alternative or talk about that?


Richard (29m 24s):

Yeah. Thank you. So when the pandemic hit and companies stop new hiring, the only, the only companies that were hiring were companies like Amazon, which all of a sudden had tens of millions of people without records that they could hire. So that's what they did. So we were essentially just shoved out of business. What are we going to do? You know, I have investors, we have venture capital firms and angel investors who've invested in a company. You and we have an obligation to the population we serve as well as my team. So what are we going to do? We're not going to quit.


Richard (30m 3s):

The two things we discovered early on that our population desperately wanted, the first was employment that much we knew obviously. The other thing was community. They have precious little opportunity to connect with one another. They lack the opportunity to get advice, to have people help them make connections for them to be inspired by one another, to gain friendship. You're taken out of prison where every decision has been made for you and you thrown into the world, and you're forced to get a job, get clothes, get transportation, find housing.


Richard (30m 46s):

And you know, if you went away, when you were 17 years old, and now you're 33, and you have no technical technology skills. Imagine what a lonely, scary place the word world must be.


Chad (30m 59s):

Yeah, I can't.


Richard (31m 0s):

And so, and you have no opportunity to connect with others who understand what you're going through and could be of help to you. So we thought let's create sort of like Facebook for ex cons. Now my using the phrase ex-con is very politically incorrect, but I guess I'm allowed to do it because I'm an ex-con, but that's what we've created. It's a mobile app, commissary.club, and people connect there and people help each other, and people become friends. And, you know, we're building a community there.


Chad (31m 37s):

Richard,I got to say, man, we really appreciate you coming on, talking about this. I'm gonna say it again. The US 5% of the world's population, 25% of the incarcerated. We have a problem. And we also have a problem on the side of actually getting jobs filled. There's an opportunity here, and you should be reaching out to Richard Bronson at the seventymillionjobs.com website. Richard, we really enjoyed, happy having you on and if somebody wants to connect with you easily, we're where can they find you?


Richard (32m 23s):

Contact m at Richard@seventymillionjobs.com. The number seventy milllion jobs with an s dot com. My message beyond anything else is you would be shocked at how good these folks perform on the job. Unlike everybody else, they really appreciate the job you know. And all they want to do is find a home where they can grow and have a chance to, you know, lead a safe, productive, legal life.


Chad (32m 39s):

Yeah, man. Well, we appreciate it. Definitely stay in touch with us, let us know what's going on. And we definitely want to hear from you again to come back on the podcast. So again, thanks for coming on, man.


Joel (32m 58s):

Thanks Richard. Chad, another one in the books, baby.


OUTRO (33m 42s):

Thank you for listening to, what's it called? The podcast with Chad, the Cheese. Brilliant. They talk about recruiting. They talk about technology, but most of all, they talk about nothing. Just a lot of Shout Outs of people, you don't even know and yet you're listening. It's incredible. And not one word about cheese, not one cheddar, blue, nacho, pepper jack, Swiss. So many cheeses and not one word. So weird. Any hoo be sure to subscribe today on iTunes, Spotify, Google play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts, that way you won't miss an episode. And while you're at it, visit www.chadcheese.com just don't expect to find any recipes for grilled cheese. Is so weird. We out.

Disability Solutions