Malcolm Jenkins, Players Coalition find jobs for former inmates

Malcolm Jenkins, center, Rodney McLeod and chief public defender of Philadelphia Keir Bradford-Grey were at the Players Coalition service fair held Friday at Temple to connect former inmates with those who can assist their transition back into society. Tim McManus/ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- The event had barely started, and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins was already seeing results.

The Players Coalition, of which Jenkins is the co-founder, hosted a service fair Friday at Temple University Beasley School of Law to connect former inmates with those who can assist with their transition back into society. The goal was to get 20 employers to attend. Nearly 60 showed up.

By noon, 17 people had already been hired.

"I met one [of the people who got a job] earlier and I was like, 'The event just started!'" Jenkins said, smiling widely.

Criminal justice reform has been the primary thrust of the Players Coalition since it was formed in 2017. Part of the focus has been on lowering the incarceration rate by advocating for measures such as bail reform, while also shining a light on the needs of those who are just getting out of the system.

"It's just providing the example of what the future could look like," said fellow safety and Players Coalition board member Rodney McLeod, also in attendance. "The biggest issue I think when these former inmates come out is that they don't have the support system, they don't believe that anyone will give them an opportunity. And so here, you see the amount of employers that are here lending a helping hand, you see the organizations that are assisting in opening up their doors to get people back on their feet, whether it's providing a roof over their head, providing them with a skill set, helping them out with their résumé, it's a wide variety. To see all of these people here all in support is amazing."

There was a news conference at the end of the event that included Jenkins; McLeod; Philadelphia's chief public defender, Keir Bradford-Grey; and heads of grassroots organizations that assist in reentry. Also with a seat on the dais was Darrell Briddell, an ex-felon.

"I'm a little nervous, so please forgive me," he said. "I just came home about six months ago from doing a 20-year federal bid for armed bank robbery."

A South Philly native, Briddell served in the U.S. Navy from 1989-92. He went down the wrong path upon return and ended up doing multiple stints in jail.

"From '92 basically until now, I've been through the system," he said. "Around 2005, I decided I wanted to leave that life alone. When I come home, I want to be a better person, be a better person for my community, for my family, and a role model for my daughter. Since 2005 I have been rebuilding myself and learning the necessary things it will take to be a productive citizen."

He has been out since September. Through Impact Services, an organization that assists in the reentry process, he was able to get a license, a part-time job and then, most recently, a full-time job as a laborer for a demolition company. He says everything is going "beautiful" at the moment.

"At the end of the day, we are wasting a ton of people behind bars simply because we refuse as a society to recognize their capacity to change, and [therefore] won't get a second chance. What we're trying to do is show people that incarceration is not the way that we make our community safer, it's not the way that we make our communities stronger," Jenkins said.

"I think our greatest contribution to this movement as athletes is the ability to storytell. And not storytell through our own mouths, but to bring those who are most impacted to the microphone. To be able to show people who can say, 'Look, because I had these supports and because I have these people give me a second chance, I'm now being a productive citizen. I paid my debt to society with the time I did and I want to come back and make amends.' Oftentimes what we hear the most is guys want to come out and be productive. But oftentimes we rob people of that."