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Ban The Box. But is that enough?

I've written before about my background and my experiences with the law, and most of my readers already know that I'm a convicted felon.  I try to stay informed on news that relates to felons' rights and how local, state and federal government is acting to address the problems of mass incarceration, recidivism, and the restoration of rights of persons who have completed their respective sentences.

 Recently, I came across an article in The Virginian Pilot about the city of Norfolk deciding to remove the question of a person's past criminal history from initial employment applications.  This has taken on the name of the Ban The Box Movement across the United States. Of course, I was happy to hear that step being taken by Norfolk, following my hometown of Portsmouth, VA, which removed that question from it's employment applications back in April.  The city of Richmond has also joined the Ban The Box movement, and they've taken the question off of their city employment applications as well.

As happy as I am to see that bit of improvement towards a better attitude in hiring people with a criminal past, I'm uncertain of what to think about just how much this is going to help people like me in finding jobs and rebuilding our lives.  In all three of the aforementioned cities, this only applies to the initial application.  At some point in the process there will be a background check and an opportunity for an applicant to disclose any past criminal history. I'm not against employers being able to have this information and using it to make an employment decision. But, what I am not in favor of is simply using someone's status as a felon as reason not to hire them without even considering what the job is and what their offense was.

Many companies will say that checking that box will not automatically disqualify an applicant from a job, but those of us who have criminal backgrounds know that is not true. Personally, there has never been an instance where I have been honest about my criminal history and have been offered a job. I've even conducted a small experiment with T-mobile, where I applied for a position, lied about my criminal past, and went through the orientation, interview and callback for the job.  I was offered the position and even had my past employment references check out. As soon as the background check came back, they back out of their offer.

So what was wrong with me other than my past? Other than things that had already been dealt with and considered over, what was the problem? Some HR professionals have been trained to tell you that they would have preferred to know about things up front, but that's just corporate language for "Had we known we would have never given you and interview and wasted our time."

When will the stigma end? What kind of rehabilitation and restitution does America's employers expect before they look at being a little more open-minded?

As a nation we spend so much money in entitlements, handouts, social welfare, etc., all of that because there are so many people out there who can't take care of themselves.  If we worked a little harder at getting the unemployed people into jobs that they can do but aren't looked at because they don't have a squeaky clean background, we'd be in such a better position. We would be filling jobs and creating productivity. We would be giving people who have felt down and out for so long, a little bit of hope in seeing that they can work and earn a living for themselves and get back what they feel they have lost out on in an honest and law-abiding way.  We would help families stay together and build a future for themselves and future generations.  But we can really only get there when we extend this fight for life, liberty and equality to those of us who have not always made the right turn or the most honest decision.

We are a nation of laws.  We are not a nation of perpetual tyranny or second-classes of citizens. When citizens break a law, they are subject to the punishment we establish as a nation or a state. We also have something in this nation called cruel and unusual punishment.  Don't you think being held back after you've done your time is cruel and unusual?  Taking away someone's right to vote indefinitely. Giving them fines that you know they can't pay while unemployed, and then taking away their license because they can't pay the fines... those are the types of things that tyrants do. Those are things that are unusually cruel to people who have just given up their liberty for what they did wrong.  What more does society want?

As a person who has all but disqualified himself from any type of job, I find it very hard to believe that this simple and on the surface type of action is really making much of a dent in the way our society looks as ex-offenders, felons, criminals...whatever you want to refer to us as, that's what we can go with for the moment. Either way, I know the reality of the situation out there and it's not getting much better.

I still find it interesting that people would use a background check as a way to determine what kind of person you're hiring. I mean, a good thief doesn't get caught, so there would be nothing in their background to warn you about it. Conversely, using someone's past as a reason not to hire them is just like saying the justice system in this country doesn't work. What did that person go to jail for or pay a fine for if not to learn a lesson about their previous mistake? If I've been to jail, paid fines, suffered with time and energy over some bad decision I've made, how can I prove to myself and to society that I'm sorry for my action and I've learned and changed other than to get a job, stay out of trouble, and keep moving in a positive direction?

The problem in this country is just that. America won't allow people to ever truly turn over a new leaf. America holds their reputations hostage.  America attacks their character and their past every time they are not perfect, even if what they say and do now has no relation to what they may have messed up in the distant past.  America labels them, takes away their rights, and then scolds them for not trying hard enough or for not having a positive attitude. America looks down on them after taking their liberty and ability to make a living for themselves, and acts as if they just aren't willing to do the work.

My question to America: What more would you have us do?


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