Finding Diamonds in the Rough

Updated: Jan 26

Despite the challenges, Chicago business owner Tom Decker is on a mission to turn individuals with a background into committed, loyal employees.

Tell us a little about your company and how you came to start hiring formerly incarcerated individuals.

In 1972, when I was 6 years old, my Godfather was murdered for no reason other than being openly gay. His murderer was given a 20-year sentence for justifiable homicide. The judge who presided over the case insisted that society would be better off without my Godfather and that he was somehow deserving of the crime due to his orientation. However, I am not better off without him, nor is anyone who loved him or anyone who knew him. That single event is why I started my mission to work with currently and formerly incarcerated individuals. Chicago Green Insulation began as a result of seeing how few opportunities were available for individuals trying to make a life for themselves.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in onboarding, training, supporting, and managing this population? What has helped you overcome these challenges, and what are some lessons learned?

Challenges? Every day is a challenge. Hiring returning citizens and people impacted by the judicial system is not for the weak. The people looking for work within my organization have little support and no “cushion.” To get their attention, we need them to know that they will have a few bucks in their pocket at the end of the first few days to help put food on their table.

We collaborate with Sustainable Options for Urban Living to do spray foam insulation safety training. We work with many nonprofit organizations around Chicago to find and vet outstanding candidates. I would argue that the referral agencies who send us candidates know that we are special and will actually offer people the opportunity to join us and live out their dreams without judgment.

We get great candidates from the community, but the challenges are real! Expect to have challenges. Be proactive with the peculiarity of the lives of returning citizens. Know who their probation officer is and what their probation officer’s phone number is. Be loud with the probation officer about the positive growth of the person working for you. Advocating for them with their probation officer will go a long way toward creating a successful employee.

What have been some of the benefits of hiring people with a background?

They tend to be very loyal once they become committed to you and your organization. When your company is known as being “background friendly,” you will find the diamonds in the rough who are in need of an opportunity. There is less competition for their time, and they know it. The strengths of the candidates can be dramatically greater than those of a population that has not been negatively affected by the justice system.

Do you have a personal anecdote to share about an individual who thrived after being given an opportunity with your company?

Oh, there are many. My goal for my employees is home ownership. There is a massive amount of discrimination toward returning citizens trying to figure out where they can live after serving their time. As far as I know, the only way for them to overcome that is to own their own home. I have one employee who closed on his own home last year [2020], and I hope to add two more to that list this year. I don’t think you are free until you realize that the key to your home, life and world is in your own hands!

What do you want other employers to know about hiring from this population? What advice would you give them?

Don’t be afraid. You can start by reaching out to your community and asking for a referral for someone in need of the chance to fill a role in your organization. Gather a few candidates, choose one or two, and then give it your all to help them be successful. Start by helping people that have some sort of connection to you and your community. Do it with all your heart and let the results just be results.


If you’re interested in hiring people with a background, contact us to learn how we can help every step of the way, from identifying potential candidates to training and managing them as valued employees. Email us [] or call us at 847-257-2713.

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