"I made up my mind to go through treatment through the Salvation Army (several years ago). I just feel more productive, mentally, physically, spiritually and financially. Some days, I work 18 hours. I don't cheat or steal. I positively influence people."
Harris works with transitional ex-offenders at 180 Degrees. He also works for Simpson Housing Services. He makes $15 to $17 an hour.
"Nothing happens until a person decided to change," said Harris, who got his high-school equivalency degree during his last prison stint.
The prison boom since the 1980s locked up disproportionately low-income minority men, most tied to drugs. Blacks are 35% of the Minnesota state-prison population although blacks make up less than 10% of the population, according to U.S. Census estimates. .
McDonald left Chicago 30 years ago to attend the University of Minnesota on a basketball scholarship.
McDonald, who also played professional basketball overseas for years, had a run-in with the law eclipse his professional plans. Twelve years ago, he was charged with drunken driving following a Gophers reunion at the U. A $100,000-plus job offer from his-hometown Northwestern University was withdrawn as a result.
"I don't feel badly for myself," said McDonald, also a local high school basketball coach. "I like to help people here restart their lives."
McDonald said most of his job placements for 180 Degrees go to temp-labor outfits that pay to $10 to $12 an hour.
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