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Jacksonville ex-offender working to open halfway house, struggles with employment due to felony record

Francina Canady feels like she's still serving time. This time the bars aren't steel, but created by her felony record.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Francina Canady has big goals to leave a legacy that will make her family proud. But she's struggling, because she says others won't look past her criminal record.

Every year millions of people are released from incarceration, and within three years, more than half of them end up back behind bars, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Re-entering society after incarceration may be hard, but what happens when you don't qualify for help from some organizations?

"Felons, we don't have a chance when we are released from prison," Canady said.

Canady feels like she's still serving time for her drug charges. This time the bars aren't steel, but her felony record, which she says has kept her from getting hired even at places known to hire convicted felons.

"[It] really upsetted me because I'm trying to not fall back into the old life, but trying to do the right thing," Canady said. "Be a good person in society to show people I'm really not a bad person. I just made bad choices."

How she wants to make a difference is by starting a halfway house to help people in her shoes.

Canady says it will be called God's Unspoken Angels.

Canady says because her charges were not in Duval County, she wasn't able to get help from some organizations and get a job that pays a living wage. This is especially upsetting to her because of the reason she moved to Jacksonville. Canady's daughter, grandson and her daughter's fiancé died in a car crash in 2020 a few months before she was released from jail.

"I said, 'I can't turn back,'" she said. "I can't turn back now because my family really need me."

Now there is a ray of hope. After this First Coast News interview, Canady called. Although there will be financial challenges, the government office gave her the 'okay' to make her halfway house an incorporation and make the legacy she wants to leave a reality too.

"I'm just hoping they get them ready for what I'm gonna leave behind," she said about leaving a legacy her grandchildren will be proud of. "So it can go on and on and be like, 'this was a very good woman.' And they will be proud. They will be real proud. I just wish my dad and my daughter was here to even see it but I know they looking over me."

First Coast News talked with a local organization that helps ex-offenders get jobs. Operation New Hope helps hundreds of people re-enter the workforce after incarceration with services like their Ready 4 Work program.

Chief Communications Officer Amanda Mahan says they get two thirds of their funding from grants that come with restrictions on enrollment.

"Unfortunately, sometimes people's charges don't fit the funding source or are outside of the time restrictions or time requirements and maybe they were too long ago," Mahan said. "But we're working really hard to figure out new funding streams and also make sure that we provide services to anybody that needs them."

So what should people in Canady's shoes do? Mahan's advice is to come into their office or give them a call. She says they'll try to connect you to other organizations.

"There's a lot of people that come that maybe they don't fit on first blush," Mahan said. "But we do this really great weekly staffing meeting where a member from each department, so a case manager, job coach, mental health counselor, somebody from each team, meet and discuss each case by case so that we can figure out, can we find a way to serve this person?"

Learn more about Canady's halfway house and how to get involved here.

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