Learn more about JFF
Learn more about JFF
Center for Justice & Economic advancement

Normalizing Opportunity

Driving policy change so that people with records can work in quality jobs



Normalizing Opportunity Advocacy Campaign

Jobs for the Future’s Center for Justice & Economic Advancement is driving policy and practice change to normalize opportunity for people with criminal records and remove barriers that limit their access to quality jobs.

More than 70 million people in the United States have a criminal record. They represent a large and diverse pool of individuals that must contend with a complex web of regulations that limit—and in some cases prohibit—their access to civic engagement, housing, education and employment opportunities. These people have talent with skills and drive that are much in demand among employers, but they face persistent disadvantages in the labor market. These practices penalize them over the course of their lives, long after they’ve served their sentences and rejoined their communities. Known as collateral consequences, these lifelong barriers are exacerbated by systemic racism, further limiting opportunities for Black and Latine workers with records. 

Mistakes Belong to the Past, We Belong to the Future 

Written by Jazmine Williams for Susan Burton

We repair societal brokenness by recognizing that healing and economic opportunity is a bilateral phenomenon. The edge of desperation is a blade that sharpens itself on the stone-eyed gaze of lifelong judgment for mistakes that belong to the past. Let reentry be as soft as a womb, bearing grace and opportunities for builders of society with more life in front of them, than behind them. 

I Am Bigger Than My Worst Day 

Written by Jazmine Williams for John Gargano

I am bigger than my worst day. More intuitive and motivated than a rap sheet could ever explain — my life story contains a plot twist meant to inspire. All I ever needed to go higher was someone to believe in me, and thank God a few did when most wouldn’t because it was all I and anyone that’s ever been counted out needs to prove that we are not throwaways. As long as I am breathing I will show up for you, for me, and for every human reduced to their biggest mistake, again and again.

Champion the Redemption  

Written by Jazmine Williams for Mckinley "Mac" Phipps

If I could ask anything of you 
It would be to expect great things
From those that have known adversity 
And still align themselves with the process of achievement
Embrace the humility of the person 
Who took inventory of their own strengths and weaknesses
From cold and lonely cells 
And refused to turn black-hearted and bitter 
Our capacity for acceptance and possibility 
Is not to be underestimated

When people with records have opportunities—often when they create their own opportunities—they’re able to transform their lives and the lives of others. For that vision to become a reality, everyone in the learn and work ecosystem—policymakers, employers, and education and training providers—must work together to ensure that opportunity is the norm and not the exception by eradicating societal and regulatory barriers facing people with records.

The Center for Justice & Economic Advancement, in collaboration with Amplifier, curated an arts campaign to advance the principles of JFF’s Normalizing Opportunity policy framework. Through original works by legendary artist and activist Brandan “BMikeOdums and poetry by acclaimed writer Jazmine Williams, this advocacy campaign showcases the transformational work of iconic justice advocates Susan Burton, John Gargano, and Mac Phipps. This artwork, elevates the success that individuals who have been incarcerated can achieve when barriers come down and opportunities expand.

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Susan Burton

Mistakes belong to the past, we belong to the future.

A visionary and inspirational leader of the criminal justice reform movement, Susan Burton is the author of the award-winning memoir Becoming Ms. Burton and founder of the A New Way of Life Reentry Project (ANWOL). ANWOL’s approach to reentry is internationally recognized as an innovative model that creates welcoming and healing spaces for women to rejoin their communities after incarceration while developing them as leaders to work toward liberation.  

In 2018, Ms. Burton launched the SAFE (Sisterhood Alliance for Freedom and Equality) Housing Network, a collective of formerly incarcerated people that’s building an effective and humane reentry model that helps people heal and prepare for the future when they return home following incarceration. The SAFE network now includes 31 members in the United States, Uganda, Nigeria, and Kenya.   

It is through this work that Ms. Burton thrives, enjoying the progress of her foundations, all while knowing how many individual lives she has touched and changed throughout her own journey. Ms. Burton also is the cofounder of All of Us or None (AOUON) and the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People and Families Movement (FICPFM). Learn more about Ms. Burton’s experience at BeingSusanBurton.com.

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John Gargano

I am bigger than my worst day.

John Gargano is a successful manager of high-profile restaurants, including Craft, the flagship Manhattan restaurant of chef and television personality Tom Colicchio. On August 2, 2016, after he’d served more than 12 years in federal prison on a 30-year sentence for a first-time nonviolent drug offense, his life changed when he received a letter signed by President Barack Obama saying his request for clemency had been granted.  

Incarceration had been a difficult challenge, but he returned home with relentless determination to succeed. Gargano always felt that his success would serve as proof that people with records deserve second chances, and he firmly believed that when people make the most of those second chances and flourish, they provide further proof that it’s essential to normalize opportunity for the tens of thousands of others who are still incarcerated in this country. 

Gargano earned an associate’s degree in business management from Hostos Community College in the Bronx, graduating with a 4.0 GPA. He later attended New York University’s School of Professional Studies on a Community College Transfer Opportunity Program scholarship. There, he earned a bachelor’s degree in leadership and management studies in 2021 and was selected by his peers to be the school’s commencement speaker. He has made it his life’s goal to end mass incarceration and ensure that people with records have the same opportunities he has had. 

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McKinley ‘Mac’ Phipps

Champion the redemption.

A rising rap star in the New Orleans area, Mac Phipps was convicted of a crime that took place when a fight broke out at one of his concerts in February 2000. During the trial, prosecutors used lyrics from his songs as evidence, which led to his conviction. Phipps was released after serving 21 years in prison and continues to maintain his innocence.  

Since his return home, he has remained motivated to help others. He has partnered with the Youth Empowerment Project, a program designed to mentor kids to help them avoid going down paths that could land them in prison.  

 Phipps is unafraid to tell his story to anyone who will benefit. Viewed as one of the most talented storytellers and songwriters of the hip-hop movement, he offers that story in his new album, Son of the City. At a time when prison reform and injustices are in the spotlight, Phipps is an example of someone who has suffered but channels his pain and loss for others. In doing so, he is out to reach others by embracing his calling as an elite storyteller. 

Download the Amplifier AR app to hear each icon’s story.


Normalizing Opportunity Policy Framework


In a first-of-its-kind policy framework, JFF provides federal, state, and local leaders with strategies to break down policy barriers that limit economic advancement opportunities for the 70 million people in the United States with records. The framework features practical recommendations for crafting policies that will expand the talent pool and help build a more equitable and just society. 



Voices of Opportunity

Policies That Normalize Opportunity Impact Lives

Now an advocate for people who are incarcerated, Aminah Elster faced red tape and regulatory roadblocks when she reentered her community following incarceration. Her story illustrates how important it is to normalize opportunity for people with records.

Normalizing Opportunity Starts With Opportunities to Learn While Incarcerated

In a firsthand look at the many ways postsecondary education programs benefit people who are incarcerated, the communities they return to, and the U.S. economy as a whole, JFF employee Shaun Libby calls on corrections officials nationwide to work with colleges and universities to establish or improve prison education programs.

A First-Person Look at Second Chances: Breaking Barriers to Education and Employment in Prison

Follow Alexa Garza’s journey through the walls of prison education and the maze of reintegration struggles, as she shares insights on breaking barriers and advocating for second chances.

Resources for Policy Implementation

Using our Normalizing Opportunity policy framework as a guide for systemic change, we are developing policy briefs and other strategic resources with recommendations about where change needs to occur and how to create conditions that enable opportunity. We will regularly update this page with new data, insights, and ideas as we expand our ongoing research and collaborate with new partners who share our commitment to normalizing opportunity. 

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We Want to Work with You!

Together we can normalize opportunity


Susan Burton
John Gargano
Mac Phipps
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