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Wrapped in Support After Incarceration

By Henry Street Settlement

A man in a conductor's uniform stands in front of a Metro North train.

Raised by his grandmother in the Jacob Riis Houses on the Lower East Side, Jason Batista, 37, had an associate degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and aspired to be a Nassau County police officer.

But, in his early 20s, Jason experienced a tragic incident that sent his plans off course. On November 21, 2007, he was a passenger in a car whose driver, his good friend, had an altercation on the FDR. The other driver—an undercover police officer—shot Jason and killed his friend—both unarmed.

The incident exacerbated Jason’s depression and anxiety. Fearful for his safety, he self-medicated to the point of alcohol and drug dependency. Several years later, he was pulled over with an unlicensed gun in his car.

Taking a plea deal, he spent three years in prison. Released, but with few prospects for a job, he says, “That was a deep, dark time, but I kept pushing.” Then, an ex-girlfriend told him about Henry Street’s employment services. Employment Coordinator Jay Koo helped Jason develop a resume, find a job in a hotel, and attain his OSHA certification for construction jobs. But, as he tried to use his college degree and advance in his career, his record got in the way.

Employers in New York state can no longer ask whether a job applicant has been convicted of a felony. But, they can do a background check later in the hiring process. Jason lost dozens of promising job prospects.

Jason had heard about a way to override his felony conviction in the job-search process—the Certificate of Relief from Disabilities. The certificate verifies the bearer’s good conduct and removes restrictions from certain jobs—but it wouldn’t be easy to attain. Jay Koo and Jason’s probation officer submitted letters of advocacy to a judge, who issued the certificate.

Jason applied for several jobs with the MTA, and one day he received an email offering him to take the assistant conductor test for Metro North. “I was intimidated and thought there was no way they would hire me,” Jason recalls.

“That was a deep, dark time, but I kept pushing. … Henry Street wrapped me in support.”

Before the test, the proctor asked whether there were any questions. “I said, ‘Do you guys hire convicted felons?’” Jason asked. “It was like a glass vase broke. And he said, ‘Yes, we hire everyone.’ I said, ‘I guess I’m going to be here for the next five hours!’ Everybody laughed.”

Jason passed the test and the background check and now, after a five-month paid training program, he is an assistant conductor on Metro North, interacting with the public, operating doors, and lining up trains in the yard on three railroad lines.

“If I hadn’t met up with Jay, I don’t think I would have this job,” Jason says. “Henry Street wrapped me in support.”

This story is featured in Henry Street’s 2023 Annual Report. Click here to view the full report.

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