Parolee-Turned-Mentor to Share Story at Equality and Diversity Summit

Companies today are increasingly committed to having their workforces be representative of the communities they serve. They are embracing diversity and inclusion within their strategic mission and are working to ensure that their workplaces – whether in-person or remote – empower people to learn, work and grow into the best professional versions of themselves.

On Thursday, June 16, the PA Chamber Educational Foundation will host its Second Annual Equality and Diversity Summit, where leaders in corporate diversity will share how they’re retaining a workforce that reflects the unique makeup of their communities and attracting a new generation of inspired talent. One of the summit’s speakers will be Lisette Morales, who can share how her company – Baker Industries – has helped inspire its workforce through second chance hiring because she has personally benefitted from their workplace model.

In the brief conversation below, Lisette shares a glimpse of the workforce journey she’ll share during the June 16 summit, which is how Baker Industries’ second-chance hiring approach enabled her to pursue a rewarding career as a project manager.

The Equality and Diversity Summit will also feature conversations on how to make a difference in the lives of small business, women and minority business owners; how to build inclusive in-house teams; and how unconscious bias training can help your company attract the next generation of talent.

Registration and sponsorship details are available on the PA Chamber’s website.

Hi, Lisette. Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to Baker Industries.

I started out my career as an overachiever – mainly because I went through a lot of childhood trauma and it served as outlet for me to escape it, and to feel that I never had to rely on anyone. I graduated from Rutgers University, started out in logistics working for a steamship company and had two beautiful children. But unfortunately, I started working for a dishonest mortgage company. I tried going to the police, but I was already too involved and the company was raided – and on June 5, 2009 I became Inmate no. 62928 and started serving a 10-year sentence.  In 2017, I was released from prison and remanded to a halfway house. It was then that I was referred to Baker Industries.

I started at Baker industries making $7.25 an hour through their transitional employment, workforce development program.  I worked in an administrative role and began facilitating classes, after which I was promoted to an assistant manager position. At that time, Rich, the president of Baker Industries, saw that I was dedicated and committed to helping others just like me.  When people walked through the Baker doors – they easily saw that it was a judgement-free zone.  My real-life experience made it easier for me to relate to our participants.  I quickly moved up and became the production manager. I just love teaching the team about team work, quality, time management, leadership, and so much more! I tell everyone, “Don’t allow your past to define your present!” Baker has been my most fulfilling career. I am so grateful to this non-profit organization!

What makes Baker Industries different as an employer, and why do you think employees want to come and stay there?

Baker Industries gives people second chances without judging anyone on their past.  They believe in us as employees and trust in our decision making.  Baker is a safe place for disabled individuals and returning citizens.  I tell everyone – If you walk in with a drive to work, Baker Industries is the place where you can rebuild your skills and habits that may have been dulled by years of incarceration.  The company gives you the opportunity to focus and grow.

Clean Slate legislation took effect in PA in (2019) as the first of its kind of the nation. Why do you think more states should get on board with giving non-violent offenders new opportunities to re-enter the workforce?

I believe more states should get on board and give non-violent offenders new opportunities, because what better lessons can be learned from life than from real world, lived experiences?  Returning citizens have paid their debt to society. With a proven track record of good behavior, they should be given the opportunity to be re-integrated into society without judgement.  I lead with my heart – and I believe that returning citizens are resilient, hardworking, loyal, problem solvers, and above all are committed to proving themselves.  They have to possess all of these traits to make it through and come out of prison – and, of course, all of these traits become transferrable skill sets AFTER they have paid their debts.  Hiring ex-offenders helps keeps them out of trouble and from re-offending! Lastly, employers can benefit from hiring former offenders, as well.

Looking back at your own career pathway, what are you most proud of, and what is the best piece of advice you would share with someone who might consider themselves “unemployable” for one reason or another?

I am most proud of working for such a compassionate non-profit organization as Baker Industries.  Prior to my incarceration, I worked for the love of money. Now, I work for the love of people, and second chances.  Baker Industries’ unique program is keeping returning citizens honest.  We are compassionate and empathetic to their needs.  We meet everyone where they are at when they walk through our doors!  I tell everyone who comes here – “You will be a success story — believe in yourself and the process – and don’t take shortcuts!”

My advice to those who aren’t trusting in themselves quite yet would be to enjoy the journey, learn something new every day, and always let your word be your bond. Also, do not let your past define who you are, and remember that everyone makes mistakes in life and it is how you bounce back that defines who you are.



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