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Encounters: An application, an interview, fingers crossed

Angelica Rosario paused outside the glass door at Subway. She smoothed her black, pin-striped pants and entered the shop, wallpapered in bright yellow. A store manager was making sandwiches and asked Angelica to give her a moment. Angelica sat down and looked around anxiously.

In the previous five months, she'd tried to find work as an administrative assistant, a receptionist, a fast-food cashier, a hostess, a telemarketer, a saleswoman. She'd applied for 74 jobs, gone on dozens of interviews. At least twice, she'd been hired and then lost it before she even started, after the background check. Where once she'd earned $50,000 a year as a loan processor, now she couldn't get a job at McDonald's.

She'd grown desperate. Now 45, would she sleep on her parents' couch for the rest of her life? How would she support herself? Why was she so nervous?

"Here you go, honey." The manager handed Angelica a job application. She dug a pair of maroon readers out of her purse and began filling it out.

At the counter, a woman was ordering a 6-inch Italian: "black olives, green peppers, a few banana peppers, oil and vinegar."

On the job application, Angelica was listing off her skills and qualifications: "fast learner, reliable, friendly and care about customer satisfaction."

She filled in the other blanks. Boca Ciega High School through the ninth grade. A GED, followed by an associate's degree from the University of South Florida. A certified medical assistant in a pediatric surgery department, and then a loan processor for several mortgage companies.

There was no box for her criminal history, but she knew it would come up. It always did.

How to begin her story? With the pregnancy at 16, months after she was Boca Ciega High School's ninth-grade homecoming princess? Or later, after she developed a drug habit that only got worse after her husband died from a heart problem? She would have to explain her most serious charges — possession of cocaine in Williams Park and use of her elderly neighbor's debit card.

She'd spent 364 days in jail and gotten out just five months before, moving back in with her parents in St. Petersburg. That's when the job rejections arrived as if on a conveyer belt.

No one believed in her commitment to start anew.

Until she went to a Red Tent Women's Initiative support group meeting and met case manager Susan Katz. Until Katz was convinced that Angelica was serious.

Then Katz mentioned that the Subway on Ulmerton Road might be willing to hire a felon.

So here, on a September afternoon, Angelica was hopeful but not confident. She'd done this too many times before.

• • •

"Sorry, I'm coming," said Subway co-manager Joni Pierce, wiping her hands on her green apron.

"No problem, I see you are a little busy," Angelica said.

Moments later, the manager slipped into a chair across from Angelica and picked up her job application. We Are Young played over the sound system. It smelled of fresh-baked bread.

"I've never worked at Subway before," Angelica said, "but I was referred here . . . and I've been looking for a job desperately. I want to work so badly. Just give me a chance."

Pierce knew Angelica was a felon. But she was a firm believer in second chances. She'd hired quite a few who had succeeded, and some who hadn't. One woman was now an assistant manager at another store.

"Yeah, you can only not work for so long," said Pierce, scanning the application through bifocals.

"But noooo . . . ?" Pierce trailed off.

"Fast food experience?" Angelica said. "I don't. I can learn."

"So tell us why we should hire you?"

"You wouldn't regret it."

"That's what they all say," Pierce said with a smile.

"It's not that I need a job," said Angelica earnestly. "I want a job. I need to work, and I want to feel good about being part of the workforce again. I want to be useful."

Pierce explained this was a training store, but they were short-staffed.

"We need people, but don't screw with us," she said. "Do you work under pressure well?"

Angelica nodded eagerly. "I'm actually at my best under pressure. I'd really just like a chance."

She knew she sounded desperate. Tears began to well in her eyes.

"Well, I'd like to get you on board as soon as possible," Pierce said.

"Oh, that sounds wonderful," Angelica said, and she tried to stop crying, but she couldn't. She wiped her eyes and smiled brightly at the same time.

"Thank you so much. I'm so excited."

"It's okay, honey," Pierce said, getting up. "You keep that excitement."

Angelica sat there with that smile, her eyes wet, savoring the news.

Then she walked outside and pulled out her phone. While she was waiting for her mother to pick up, she realized she hadn't even asked how much she'd be paid. It didn't matter. She knew she would need a second job if she ever wanted to get her own place. But it was a start.

Her mother answered.

Angelica shrieked.

"I got the job!"

About this series

Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes, they play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes, they may be part of it. To comment or suggest an Encounters, contact editor Maria Carrillo at mcarrillo@tampabay.com or call (727) 892-2301.

Encounters: An application, an interview, fingers crossed 10/04/17 [Last modified: Friday, October 6, 2017 1:25am]
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