By age 22, LaDerrick Parks had lived half his life with no parents and no desire to settle down. He did not seek a stable home and did not avoid trouble on the streets. “I was all about me,” he said.

During the last few months of his most recent prison term, he was introduced to the Old Testament story of Gideon and his army of 300 strong men. The message resonated: By looking out for one another, a small group can accomplish big things.

LaDerrick found his army in the “exit pod” at the Hamilton County Justice Center, including two staff members at Cincinnati Works: Jessica Wright, Director of Member & Employer Services, and Tevis Clark, Professional Development Coach.

LaDerrick participated in coaching sessions that Wright and Clark led every week in the exit pod (officially the Hamilton County Office of Reentry Pod). Within two weeks of being released from prison, he applied for and was awarded two part-time jobs. His new goal is to become full-time at one or both of those jobs, so he can save for a car and an apartment where he can help raise his three young kids.

“If it wasn’t for Tevis and Jessica, I would probably be doing extra time,” he said. “They told me they had a plan for me, and they did. When you have positive people on your side, telling you they’re there for you, telling you they’ve got a ‘bat line’ for you – I know if I ever get in a ditch, I can call Tevis, and even if he’s with someone, he’ll say, ‘Give me 5 minutes and I’ll make time for you.’ I appreciate that, for real. That makes you stronger.”

Inmates in the exit pod meet regularly with representatives from a number of service agencies for help with issues like education, housing, transportation and employment. Wright and Clark meet with inmates every Wednesday to present a modified version of the Cincinnati Works JumpStart job-search-readiness workshop.

LaDerrick dove into the weekly assignments Wright and Clark gave them, and he welcomed the Cincinnati Works staff as part of his 300-strongmen army.

Just as important, he was in the right frame of mind to utilize his army.

After six months in a regular pod at the Justice Center, LaDerrick embraced the responsibility of living in the exit pod because of the relative freedom it came with. He trusted the men with whom he shared the pod, and he listened to the advice Wright, Clark and others offered. He shed a bit of the ego and independence that marked his first 22 years.

“Looking at the walls, being away from your kids, not having anybody there for you – it can do that to you,” he said.

LaDerrick grew up in Chicago, often running with a dangerous crowd. His father died when he was young, and his mother died when he was 11. After numerous run-ins with the law – and with no living parents to oversee him – a juvenile judge encouraged him to move to Cincinnati to stay with extended family. He spent much of the next few years bouncing from place to place, sometimes staying with friends, sometimes sleeping outside, often getting into trouble.

He served multiple prison sentences before being introduced to the “exit pod” and Cincinnati Works this summer.

“It works,” LaDerrick said. “It depends on what you want to do with it, obviously. If you’re willing to put in the work, it helps. My motivation was to push myself to make a better life. I’ve come a long way to where I’m at now, and that’s because of Cincinnati Works and the exit pod.”