LYNN, Mass. — They hear it all the time: Give an ex-convict a job, and he or she will stay out of jail.

For Straight Ahead Ministries, that’s too simple.

“I think giving the guys a job is the easy part,” Straight Ahead Ministries Silkscreen manager Sokhan Prak said. “The hard part is being at the job and having the conversation if they mess up.”

Prak, 25, understands this. He started working with Straight Ahead Ministries at the age of 14 when he began getting involved in local gangs. The program never gave up on him, and now he is in charge of a studio at the ministry’s offices on Munroe Street where ex-convicts or at-risk youth can learn how to use a silk-screen machine to produce T-shirts and other clothing.

“Our mission is to train these guys so that if they are in a real work environment, they can have these skills,” Prak said.

Straight Ahead has had the silk-screening machine for years, and Prak first learned how to use the device when he was a teenager. He first joined Straight Ahead staff as an outreach worker and didn’t have much time to dedicate to teaching clients about the silk-screening process.

This September, Prak took over the silk-screen studio full time as part of the ministry’s renewed focus on the work program. His goal is to make the studio a nonprofit business with a team of full-time workers who are clients in the ministry.

“I would love to have it make money,” Prak said, “but it’s more to have guys coming in here and working and seeing that they’re committed and saying ‘Man, I love working here.’ Seeing them have a passion for their job and taking ownership.”

For that to happen, Prak needs clients.

The studio has designed and made T-shirts for the Highlands Coalition, the ministry, the Black Lobster restaurant in Salem and other special projects. Plus, Prak said that learning how to use the machine expertly requires a bit of trial and error. He admitted that he did not think of himself as particularly good at drawing or art and said it was difficult for him to learn how to use the computer software to produce designs as well as the machine that actually printed the design.

Ministry director Jason Ludwig said the trial-and-error involved in mastering a skill is essential for the ministry’s clients.

Ludwig said that when clients start working at a new job and/or are given a new responsibility, they experience “transformation or tension.”

“A lot of times people will pull their tension down a little lower, and a little lower, to bring it down to their comfort level,” Ludwig explained. Unfortunately, that can involve shirking their responsibilities – for example, showing up late or not at all, not being committed to the task and basically setting themselves up for failure.

But just as Straight Ahead stuck with Prak, he will stick with other people in the ministry.

“When you plant a seed, it takes a while to see the results,” Prak said. “We see guys transform. That’s the part I enjoy most, seeing them stick with it. I think that’s also the toughest part for all of us – me and the guys working here … the way we work, if someone’s late or doesn’t show up, I don’t fire them, we have a conversation, they take some time off, and come back when they’re ready.”

Now Prak is ready to show the community what Straight Ahead can do.

“By hiring us here, you are investing in the youth of the city,” Prak said.

For more information about Straight Ahead Ministries and the silk-screen studio, email [email protected]