Welcome Back to the Community

RecycleForce is a lifeline to ex-offenders.

It offers a second chance to formerly incarcerated men and women reentering society. It gives them work. Trains them for higher paying jobs. Provides the education, mentoring and support they need to thrive. All while reclaiming the environment through recycling of mixed plastics, electronic components and metals.

For 13 years, KeyBank has supported RecycleForce, which is based in Indianapolis. Rob Smith, who served time in the state penitentiary, is a warehouse manager and peer leader at RecycleForce. Gregg Keesling is RecycleForce’s founder and leader. In their own words below, Rob and Gregg open the doors to an agency that changes lives every day—and share how Key’s backing helps them carry on their mission.

Rob:
People throw away a lot of things in life. We don’t throw anything away. They come to me and say, “Rob, I got some trash.” No we don’t. We don’t believe in trash.

Gregg:
We see similarities in the way our society discards products and neglects individuals with criminal records. RecycleForce is taking the things society is throwing away and we’re remaking them into things society wants.

We are training a labor force that everybody was afraid of. We take federal transitional jobs funding, or what we used to call subsidized employment, and we embed it into our program. So people come in, they gain skills and they transition out. We now have developed what we call the "ABC" model. Any job. Better job. Career.

Rob:
I got here through the criminal side. I was still on parole when I came here in 2013, so I had to leave during the day and go see the parole officer. It was hectic at first.

Before, I couldn’t get food stamps because I was a drug dealer. I couldn’t feed my kids because I was a drug dealer. They wouldn’t offer me any kind of assistance because I was a drug dealer. It was rough being a drug dealer. I would never pick that occupation again. I was so grateful to come to RecycleForce.

Gregg:
Our program extends well beyond the typical six months that ex-prisoners usually get to find work. By working with industry partners and employers committed to hiring ex-offenders, we help facilitate the transition for program participants from temporary work to full-time, gainful employment.

This is real. We’re taking people parole officers were chasing and police were arresting and we’re turning them into productive, tax-paying citizens. We don’t win every battle. I wish we could.

Rob:
It’s not easy. We get the roughest. You know, the ones nobody wants to help. Bullet holes are in them, stab wounds. These people are angry. People have been lying to them. People have been tricking them and they’re just mad. So when we get them working, it’s like magic. Their heads are down, they got their radios on. They’re working and they love it.

We start every morning with the circle of trust. It’s like an ancient tribe tradition where we sit around and talk about chores for the day. You know, it’s all the doing, the caring about other people. It’s how we do it.

Gregg:
Very few have ever held a job in their life. It’s well above 90% of never having worked.

Rob:
All we do is try to support the people here through this day. We don’t say anything about tomorrow. And we don’t talk about yesterday, because yesterday doesn’t have a last name. Let’s do it today. Move forward. We don’t want anybody looking back.

Gregg:
When a person comes to this program and they see me or regular case managers, they don’t trust us—and why should they?

They see Rob and they see the peer leaders. This is a really big part of our program—certain people who come through the program stay and get training to become the supervisors and the leaders on the floor. They go up to Rob and you could watch people’s faces change. It’s Rob and his team.

Rob:

I try to motivate people. You know most of these people are wounded mentally when they get here. They’ve been chased by the bear. Nobody wanted to give them anything before. We give people opportunity when they get here. Hope.

Gregg:
We couldn’t have done it without the support of our friends at KeyBank and the KeyBank Foundation. The generous grants from the foundation have helped equip our incredible growth these past several years. They saved us many times. Just recently, thanks to KeyBank, we were able put our E-Waste shredder, the BEAST, back online.

Our partnership is not just about securing the funds we need to execute our plans. KeyBank has been vital to our fiscal management and long-term financial planning.

Rob:
A lot of people sacrificed their life for this program. RecycleForce helped me reach my goal. Helped me stay out of prison. Helped me become a citizen. I’m a good father now. I pay child support. RecycleForce helped me get back in my community.

I tell the people here that they’re not just working. They’re taxpayers. They say, “I’m a taxpayer, Rob?” I say, “Yes, you’re a taxpayer. You pay taxes. You pay for these streets, these lights. You’re paying for everything. You’ve got a voice now. You’re somebody now. Welcome, welcome, welcome back to the community.”

Since 2006, RecycleForce has employed nearly 1,200 men and women, providing industry-recognized training and certification, on-the-job training and job placement services. Its employees also have access to professional and peer mentoring, high school equivalency and literacy tutoring, assistance with housing and driver’s license reinstatement, substance abuse and mental health counseling, tax preparation, budgeting and financial literacy training. In 2022, RecycleForce is scheduled to open a new building that will double its capacity in both reentry hiring services (from 300 to more than 600 ex-prisoners annually) and electronics recycling (from 10 million to 20 million pounds).