Diane wrote me recently, and I just had to share it with you. This the same Diane whose story I shared a couple weeks ago. The same Diane who was in and out of the criminal justice system for years, even though it was obvious she struggled with substance abuse from a very early age. The same Diane who is set to be a college graduate in just a few weeks. The same Diane whose promise is exceptional and whose enthusiastic compassion is contagious. The same Diane whose life opportunities were thwarted for far too long because of a system that gave her a rap sheet instead of a health chart.
This experience is so real. Even for those who “make it”, the stigma never leaves. Here is what Diane had to say.
“Here is a little bit about how it was for me to find a job. I struggled with the shame of having a felony and had a huge fear of checking the box. I stressed for weeks about finding a job, before I even attempted to put out applications. I have over 15 years of customer service experience from sales to fine dining. I did not want to put myself in the position to be looked down upon, so I went an easier route and got a job at a car wash. I knew I could get in easily and make tips. It was very hard work, but I got promoted within a couple of months into the sales position and started making commission. It was good money. I quit because of time constraints with school and homework. I will soon have to fill out that box again and carry that shame again when I graduate. The feeling of being lesser than is very hard to explain. It is a gut wrenching, self-worth stealing experience I would never wish on anyone.”
Sure, she found a job. It paid good money. But at what cost to her battered psyche? At what cost to our community for the years of productive leadership wasted? At what cost to her future opportunities? At what cost to the soul of our society? At what cost to you and me?
For as Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed, “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be… This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
Diane, stay strong even when we are weak. Teach us, lead us, forgive us.
For we will never be what we ought to be until you are what you ought to be.