Yesterday I got a phone call from Janice that reminded me why I am wearing orange for 40 days.
Janice is a young, single mother of three kids. About ten years ago, Janice had a family situation for which she took the fall. Maybe not entirely innocent in the matter, yet sacrificially she accepted responsibility and received a felony conviction. She did 6 months jail time and got out thinking she would start a new life and never look back. For a while she was quite successful in moving forward. She obtained a dental assistance education and then worked for 7 years at the same dentist’s office. Then her grandmother got sick, and Janice again sacrificially left her career and stable life to provide care for her grandmother in her final months.
After her grandmother died, Janice began again to look for work. Surely it will not be difficult, I mean, she had 7 years of successful, faithful service in a field in which she was highly qualified. Alas, that has been far from her experience. She has now hit wall after wall with employers unwilling to hire her because of her criminal record, even after she has a great interview with them. Once the employers do a criminal background check, many of them just don’t call her back and several state it is against their “policy” to hire applicants with felony records. She has even tried temporary agencies who tell her it is not even worth her time to try. She won’t get hired. One educational program would not even let her apply. All because of a felony record from 10 years ago. Meanwhile, she struggles to pay the bills, keep food on the table, hold her head up high and hide the tears from her kids.
As we talked, I had to tell Janice that there is basically nothing I can do to help her. It broke my heart. Again. I am so sick of telling people that our society and community don’t really truly believe in second chances. Certainly not fair chances. Sure, there are some pockets of individuals and particular businesses that make it part of their business operation to hire a few “ex-offenders” and give someone another chance. That’s great. But there are not enough. And when you add up everything together, all of the stigmatization and legal discrimination and messages of unworthiness, it is hard not to conclude that we no longer believe in second chances, at least not for those folks. You know, the ones who really messed up. The “ex-cons”, those criminals.
Janice, you are worthy. You are not a criminal. We should be ashamed, not you. Please forgive us. And allow us to learn from you what true courage and fortitude and strength of spirit are really like.
With tears in both our eyes, Janice told me how much it meant to her that I have chosen to act so boldly on behalf of people in her situation. I told her it is my honor and privilege. It is the least I can do. I truly thanked her for the opportunity to share her story, for her vulnerability and courage. May the world hear Janice’s story so that we may know how tragically we have lost our way.
“Go and sin no more”, Jesus said to the woman caught in a bad act. Not “Go and sin no more for 10 years, and then you might have a chance for redemption”. Go now. Live fully in forgiveness and grace and love. Now. Maybe the rest of us should join her…