How “Tough Love” Helps California Ex-Cons Find Jobs


Scott Silverman’s goal is to coax, bully, tease, demand, and manipulate ex-convicts into getting ready to find a job, says the Los Angeles Times. One of the first chores is to get them to drop the habits they picked up behind bars: lying, faking, refusing to make eye contact, getting verbally aggressive when disrespected, thinking of the whole world as just another overbearing prison guard. At the beginning of the three-week Second Chance program in San Diego for ex-cons, students are taken aback by Silverman’s bluntness. Some quit. Silverman, the program’s founder and executive director, does not care. He boots out other students, telling them they are not ready to drop their loser ways.

At first the students — mostly ex-drug addicts who used burglary, robbery, or petty theft to support habits — rise to Silverman’s taunts. Those who stick it out realize the method behind the apparent madness. On one classroom wall are the dictums that Silverman drills into students: Life Ain’t Fair! It Ain’t Never Gonna Be Fair! Eat It! Swallow It! Accept It! “I have a certain philosophy of life, and it’s ‘tough love,’ ” said Silverman, 55, whose rise as a business executive and fall as an alcoholic, drug addict, rehab dropout, and would-be suicide is chronicled in his autobiography, “Tell Me No, I Dare You.” Begun 16 years ago with small donations, Second Chance has grown to an annual budget of $2.8 million from foundations, private donations, and the San Diego County Probation Department.

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