This morning, George came to my office seeking help. He has a felony on his record, an offense related to unpaid child support and for which he had made amends, completed probation, and been discharged a few years ago. But he now wanted to get the record cleared if at all possible. He has not been able to find work. Despite making it through several stages of the hiring process on a number of occasions, once the employers found out that he had a felony record, the job opportunity was as good as dead. One employer had even begun the orientation process with George, a sure sign that he was qualified for the job and the business wanted to hire him, only to drop him as soon as they saw he had a felony on his record. It didn’t matter to them that the offense was wholly unrelated to the manufacturing job, George had completed his probation quite satisfactorily, and that the offense had occurred almost a decade prior. George had a felony. Case closed. Find somewhere else to work (good luck with that). All George wants and needs is a fair chance to prove himself qualified and worthy of employment, to support himself, and live as a productive member of the society in which he lives, yet he can’t ever seem to shake off this mistake from his past and the incessantly prohibitive stigma attached.
There are millions of Georges out there. Dejected by the stigma and legal discrimination related to their criminal records, a “uniform” they most often won’t ever be able to take off, they see themselves in the mirror, knowing exactly what they will see, and they keep pressing on. Their courage and strength in the face of demoralizing dejection and constant rejection should be admired. And it should also compel us to find our own courage and strength to stand with George and all those he represents. Use what power you have to change the way the world sees citizens with criminal records. Provide employment, talk to your bosses, or even simply gather and give the resources needed for employment (like interview/work clothes, resume materials, moral support, networking connections). Use your voice for those with no voice. Advocate for the powerless and uplift the dejected.
Tomorrow, I will have some very specific suggestions on how individuals and communities can act with and on behalf of George and all the others who so desperately want to take off their uncomfortable uniform and rise above the dejecting stigma. They just want to work. Is that such a bad thing?
Please check back and let’s all get to work so George can work!