Terrence Hayes stands in front of a mural painted in memory of his cousin, Quanice Hayes. Terrence took care of Quanice when he was young. Upon release from prison, Quanice was shot and killed by a Portland police officer during an encounter.
“The challenge is obvious: I’ve gotta convince people that [formerly incarcerated] individuals can do the job at a high level. And if I can convince them, then guess who else I’ve gotta convince? I’ve gotta convince that individual—a person who’s been told that they can never do more than $15 an hour.”
From prison to construction, Raimore workforce advocate is bridging the gap
Terrence Hayes is a rising star at Raimore Construction. He’s an electrician, training to be an engineer and serving as a workforce advocate by recruiting people into well-paying jobs in the trades. But if you’d met him 15 years ago and asked what his future looked like, none of this life would have been on his horizon, because 15 years ago, Terrence Hayes was in prison.
“I was always given the impression that I couldn’t do [electrical work], that I didn’t have the intelligence and the math was so complicated that if you didn’t have extreme intelligence then you wouldn’t be able to do it,” he says. “The truth of the matter is the industry is still painted in that way and it scares people who didn’t grow up around people in the industry.”
During his incarceration, Terrence was introduced to an electrical apprenticeship program. His doubts led him not to pursue the opportunity at first, but one day as he walked through the halls in Oregon’s largest prison, he saw a fellow Black prisoner taking the program. A lightbulb went off: “To see a Black dude doing this, I’m like, I know him. He’s not that much smarter than me.”
With encouragement, Terrence enrolled in the program and began learning the trade. The program lasted four years, and he struggled because everything was new to him—he had no exposure to electrical work beforehand, no roadmap to guide him beyond what the program could provide. Aside from the inmate who introduced him to the program, his only classmates were white men who took little interest in him. Everyone seemed to be grasping concepts faster than him, and he felt no confidence to graduate from the program and go into real-world electrical situations. He reached a breaking point in the final year of the program.
“I was so frustrated, feeling like everyone was growing faster than me and I was not comprehending this thing at all. I wasn’t confident,” says Terrence. He walked into his work area one day and told the instructor, “I’m done. If I walked out of here today, I don’t know what I’m doing.”
The instructor, a white man, saw the potential Terrence couldn’t see in himself and began investing his personal time to build his confidence and prepare him for the work world. Every day after work, they met in the library to review material, talk about electrical theory and dive into code. The instructor bridged the gap so when Terrence arrived at his first jobsite, he knew exactly what he was doing.
“My process started with an individual who looked like me who told me that I can do it, and then it ended with an individual who didn’t look like me being intentional about not letting me fail,” he explains, “which is a microcosm of what I think it takes for Black people to have more success at higher levels in the electrical field, or any trade career.”
Terrence had a job within three days of leaving prison. Four years later, with experience under his belt, he approached Raimore and was hired there. Now, he’s training in civil engineering, building relationships in the community and bringing folks like him into the profession where they, too, can find success after prison. “I have a lived experience that most guys just don’t have, and that’s why I’m valued because we want to see more individuals have opportunities like I have.”
Put another way, he’s paying it forward, bridging the gap in understanding between what a formerly incarcerated worker brings to the table with the needs on the jobsite. There’s a lot of distrust on all sides when it comes to breaking the stigma around employing formerly incarcerated people.
“The challenge is obvious: I’ve gotta convince people that [formerly incarcerated] individuals can do the job at a high level,” he says. “And if I can convince them, then guess who else I’ve gotta convince? I’ve gotta convince that individual—a person who’s been told that they can never do more than $15 an hour that actually, they’re worth $40 an hour, that they’re worth a healthy retirement account, that they can be entrepreneurs.”
Now that Raimore is a prime contractor on the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project, new opportunities are opening up for Terrence and the former inmates he is bringing into the workforce. “Raimore understands we’re now at a time where individuals with my story can no longer be ignored and change has to happen.”
Thousands of jobs will be in demand as new infrastructure projects break ground in the next decade, not only in Oregon but the United States more broadly. The Rose Quarter project is only the first of many regional opportunities to spur economic growth for communities that have historically been locked out. If done right, the Portland region can leverage these projects to achieve equitable outcomes, toward restoring justice.
And that’s the driving force behind Terrence’s work: “Individuals like myself are the change that can positively affect the story that we’re creating.”