Everyone deserves a chance

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An editorial by the CKNJ Editorial Board

Imagine this scenario:

John, 34, has looked forward to this day for a long time - 11 years and 4 months, to be exact. When John was 22, he got into some trouble and made poor decisions. A bad couple of years ended in an arrest, a conviction and a prison sentence.

In the past 11-plus years, John has missed most of his son's childhood. Jack was only 2 when John was sent to prison, and he barely remembers his father. But John is looking forward to re-establishing a connection with his son, even though his wife divorced him while he was imprisoned. He learned to weld during his prison term, and he knows he's going to find a good job and become a productive member of his community, righting the wrongs of his past.

Three months later:

John has applied at 14 different businesses, but he's had no luck finding a job as a welder or as anything else. That little box on all the applications, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" has been his downfall. His ex-wife is filing charges of nonsupport because he has yet to pay child support. John's parents' home is overcrowded, yet he doesn't have an income to afford his own place. Feelings of frustration are beginning to overtake him.

Then John gets a call from an old friend, offering money for a small job. Yes, it's illegal, but what's a guy to do when he can't get a job? But the police show up, and next thing John knows, he is back in prison again.

The job market is difficult for most everyone right now, but doubly so for those with a felony record. A truthful answer to that job application question brings with it the possibility that an application will be tossed in the garbage. But if left blank, an individual runs into the possibility of being labeled a liar.

It seems as if there is a bias in society today toward those who have been convicted of a crime and then paid their debt to society. Supposedly rehabilitated, these individuals are presumed to be law-abiding citizens, yet most are looked at with suspicion.

We certainly don't have all the answers, but we do want to offer some encouragement for those in "John's" situation:

  • Be honest, explain exactly what happened - and why. You never know when the truth will make the difference.
  • Don't just fill out a job application. Have a resume that gives a detailed list of all training, skills and education.
  • Consider petitioning the court to expunge a past criminal record when you're eligible to do so. There are some exceptions, such as crimes against children or violent offenses, but many times a judge will at least consider an argument after five years.

Above all, don't give up.