Woodyard Fund: Ex-inmate helped in rebuilding life

Kamal Najee is still paying for a serious mistake he made as a teenager.

He served 16 1/2 years in prison for burglary and assault and battery. He is out of prison and trying to live a productive life.

He doesn't make excuses for his crime.

"I can't justify what I did," he said.

Now Najee, 36, is unemployed and blames his incarceration for it.

He understands why people are reluctant to hire him, but he hopes someone gives a break to a convicted felon.

"It's hard to hire someone who broke the law," Najee said. "You fear they may do you more harm than good."

Najee has held five jobs since he was released from prison in 2007. He got laid off from two of them; he was fired from the others after supervisors learned of his criminal history.

Every day, Najee searches for jobs as a mason or carpenter.

Meanwhile, Najee said, he is struggling to pay bills and care for his 7-year-old son, who lives with him.

In early December, Najee said, he could not afford his electric bill. He had been paying portions of it for several months, and the amount owed kept growing.

"It just got so outrageous," Najee said.

Finally, SCE&G threatened to turn off his power.

Christmas already was going to be a small celebration at his house. Najee said he could not even afford a tree. He had explained the financial problems to his son and hoped he understood why there wouldn't be many presents Christmas morning.

Najee learned about the Woodyard Fund from a friend.

"It's embarrassing to feel helpless like that," Najee said. "I'm a strong man. I'm not handicapped. I can work. I want to work."

The Woodyard Fund helps people in Richland, Lexington, Fairfield and Newberry counties who are struggling financially keep their heat on or get it turned back on during the coldest months of the year, November through March.

The fund was started in 1816 by the Ladies Benevolent Society, who provided firewood or coal to needy families. In 1930, the editor of The State began publicizing the fund and those it helped, a tradition that continues each winter.

Najee is thankful the Woodyard Fund was willing to help a convicted felon who is trying to live a better life. The fund paid the $366 bill.

"They were my last resort," he said. "I didn't know what to do. I didn't have a dime to put toward that bill. It was amazing that someone was there who actually could help."

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