PROVIDENCE — Down the Road Movers took on its first job less than six months ago.
A few months before that, founders Trent Manning and Juan Turbidez sat at a table at the Direct Action for Rights and Equality Community Resource Center in Providence and had the idea to start their own moving company, drawing up some logos of a twisting road and coming up with a name to match.
And only a few years before that, both men had been incarcerated.
Manning and Turbidez have been DARE volunteers (and now Turbidez works there as a communications specialist), they also started a business, and they have criminal records. They are a lot of things, just like Down the Road, which is a moving company with a bit of advocacy, career workshopping, and self-esteem building mixed in.
Down the Road Movers employs about 10 people. Some people pick up extra hours when they can or want to, others work on jobs every week. Most of them have only been out of jail or prison for a few months.
Finding work is difficult in a lot of ways after getting out, Manning and Turbidez said.
“Sometimes when you come out, you feel like it’s just you, only you are going through this,” Manning said. Everyone has plans to make their lives better, a stack of papers with re-entry plans, but then the obstacles come: “Skirt, stop, skirt, stop,” Manning said.
They said employers don’t want to hire people they know have a criminal record. And even when they can find a job, just getting there can present a challenge. Without a car or a license, and sometimes without a place to call home, arriving on time or at all isn’t guaranteed for those trying to put their lives back together.
Manning and Turbidez work with DARE’s Behind the Walls, a group of people directly impacted by the carceral system. Not only does the group provide support and connections for those who have been in prison, it also organizes to pass legislation that makes life easier once they’re out.
Manning just testified for a bill that would reduce court debts last week. He and Turbidez both have thousands of dollars in court debt. The financial burden falls on top of the time spent in court or with probation and parole officers after someone gets out.
“They demand you have a job, but they have no respect for your work schedule,” said Anusha Alles, Behind the Walls community organizer at DARE. Alles was sitting at the table at DARE last summer when Manning and Turbidez thought of the idea for Down the Road.
The period when someone has just been released from prison is a “crucial time,” she said, and having a job for financial security and grounding, like the work Down the Road has been providing people, is key to success.
Joshua Wilcox has been out of prison for about a year and has been working with Down the Road and as security at a nightclub in Providence. At 34 years old, Wilcox said that going in out of prison “numerous times” since he was 18 was beginning to feel like “Deja vu.”
But with two jobs, and an apartment with affordable rent, he is starting to feel like “everything is falling into place.”
It’s “keeping me busy and pays the bills,” Wilcox said.
Beyond the financial stability, there’s also something intangible about doing good, legal work, they all noted. They feel a sense of pride and camaraderie with each other.
Manning said his favorite part of the process has been working with people he considers his peers and the mutual respect that comes with that.
He said he is looking forward to the company growing in the future. He filed for an LLC and is renting box trucks while he saves for his own.
Marketing has mostly been through word of mouth and Instagram, where Down the Road follows lots of other local and POC-owned businesses and organizations who share each others’ photos. Many customers know they are employing formerly incarcerated movers and hire them specifically because of the company’s mission, Manning said.
Rae Oxford Hebron got connected with Down the Road through a friend who has taken pictures for the company’s social media.
“I really wanted to support businesses like Down the Road. It was really important to me,” Hebron said, explaining that they are very passionate about protecting the rights of formerly incarcerated citizens. So, when they were moving out of their Providence apartment, Hebron gave Down the Road a call.
Currently, the company provides long and short distance moving, junking, and furniture rearranging and assembly, and tries to meet people where they are in terms of pricing, with a “sliding scale” pricing system for those with low-income.
Turbidez said it feels good to help people in one of the most stressful periods of their life while also bettering himself.
“I’m an asset to my community. I used to sell crack,” he said. “Now, we help people.”
Colleen Cronin can be reached at email@example.com.