Finding work after prison is tricky, but one East Dallas man has made it profitable
The house located on the edge of East Dallas is in shambles. It has been badly burned, battered by the elements and God knows what else.
Although it doesn’t look like much now, it’s on its way to being restored — very much like the lives of the men doing the construction.
There’s a sign posted on the front of the house that reads “#redeemdallas.” If you search the hashtag on Facebook, you’ll discover the story of 2S Industries. It’s a story worth telling.
2S Industries was created by White Rock Lake-area resident Todd Fields, who also isDa the founder of the nonprofit Second Saturday, which takes groups of volunteers into impoverished neighborhoods in Dallas on the second Saturday of every month to do home construction, landscaping and other work for families in need.
2S Industries is a for-profit company created from relationships formed at Second Saturday. While working in West Dallas, Fields met dozens of men who often have trouble finding “honest work” because they have jail or prison time on their records.
Fields decided to change that.
He created a landscaping business, which has since ballooned into a landscaping, construction and house-flipping business, and the first house is in the process of being flipped right here in East Dallas. They’re in the process of taking it down to the studs and rebuilding it from the ground up, and Fields hopes to flip more houses in the future.
“When you’re starting a business, you wouldn’t think of taking five guys who are ex-cons with an average of a ninth-grade education as the people you want to start a business with, but that is our heart,” Fields says. “We want to push to the furthest margins, and truly these guys are the most marginalized guys in Dallas.”
One of the men is Ahommed Jones, who has become a life-long friend to Fields and his family. They met seven years ago, and the beauty of their friendship is that Jones is the street cred to Fields’ real estate experience.
Fields once operated a successful real estate business, until he lost everything in the housing collapse of 2008. Then in 2009 he met Jones, a man who was born and raised in West Dallas in the infamous Fishtrap Projects, which was the epicenter of the Dallas crack epidemic in the mid- to late-1980s.
“There was prostitution, robbing and selling drugs; those were the three trades of the Fishtrap Projects,” Fields explains.
“It was bad. They’ve since torn them down, but these guys came from one of the top two worst spots in Dallas to come from, to the point where you’re looking at mortality rates among males being 42 years old.”
In 2009 Jones was desperate; he didn’t want to go back to prison. Fields tried to find him work, securing some odd jobs here and there, but it wasn’t enough for Jones to support himself or his family. Fields realized that if he wanted to really help Jones, and others like him, he was going to have to create a place for them to work.
Jones introduced Fields to several other guys who grew up in the Fishtrap Projects and who, like him, had no viable work options. Fields invested the last $50,000 he had in construction equipment, and together they created 2S Industries and did the unthinkable: they made money. Since it started, 2S Industries has paid more than $600,000 in wages.
“All to men who society looks at and says, ‘You’re not hirable’,” Fields points out.
Which is why it’s important for a business like 2S Industries to exist, Jones insists.
“Work like this, where people don’t judge you, where you can go in and learn a trade. Some of these guys have never had an opportunity, or they don’t know how to create an opportunity,” Jones explains.
If they stick with it long enough, team members can learn up to 20 to 30 valuable and marketable skills on the job. Ideally Fields and Jones would like 2S Industries to be a stepping-stone to better opportunities, although for some of the guys it’s the only job they can get, and 2S Industries welcomes them, too.
They have success stories. In March they lost a skilled employee, Floyd Conley, to a full-time welding gig with an annual salary and benefits.
Conley had been to jail multiple times and prison once for domestic violence. He told us he was looking forward to his future, even though in the past he has lost good jobs because of his criminal record.
“I felt like all the odds were against me,” Conley explains and points to the badly damaged house. “That’s kind of like how our lives are, they’re burned.”
But now he wants to smile more, he says.
“When I look at the future, I see me being in church, I see my family, I see a prosperous future,” he explains. “I trust that God is going to finish what he started in my life. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. It can be a simple life. I just know that there are better days ahead.”
Conley eventually hopes to own his own company, he says.
Fields, who at 6-feet-9 poses as an intimidating figure, learned a lot about teamwork from playing high school and college basketball, and he often falls back on that experience to guide his interactions with his colleagues.
2S Industries operates like a team, Fields says. They hold each other accountable, challenge each other and support each other through life’s ups and downs. It hasn’t been perfect. Over the years some of them have gone back to prison. Jones’ friend, Steven Douglas, was shot and killed by Dallas police back in 2014. (The case is awaiting review by a grand jury.)
They work like a family Fields says. “When somebody’s down, we come and pick them up. If you’re going 50 percent one day, somebody else has to make that up. We’re a team.”
Although Fields grew up with a single mom who struggled financially and often relied on food programs, he recognizes the stark contrast between the kind of poverty he experienced as a child and the kind of poverty and environment that drove the guys on his team to crime at young ages.
“I would never compare my experience to theirs,” he says. “Although I lived on a lower rung — I didn’t have nice clothes or nice shoes, my mom didn’t have a nice car — I had a mom and grandparents and neighbors who had the same right to discipline me as my parents. Truly a village helped raise me. Look at their village.”
It was dozens of little things, like his mom helping him with driver’s ed, that made the biggest differences in Fields’ life.
That’s why it’s such a big deal that at 28-years-old Jones now owns a house, has worked hard to clean up his criminal record and even has a driver’s license — unlike most of the men his age in West Dallas. Where he was once a figure in the criminal underbelly of West Dallas, he’s now a pillar in the community.
“He always has at least two or three guys sleeping in his house,” Fields points out. “Ahommed [Jones] is the guy people go to when they’re at rock bottom because they know he’ll take them in, but he’ll also expect them to start working, so he’ll bring them along to what we’re doing.”
Except Fields, everyone on the team has some kind of criminal record. Even the project manager, Martin Evans, just got off parole after “making a series of bad choices” that lead to him falsifying financial documents.
But he insists going to prison was the best thing that ever happened to him because it forced him to change his life and eventually led him to prison ministry and 2S Industries.
“Now I’m working with men who need a chance,” Evans says.