Straight Talk: Dr. Paul K. Fauteck, from felon to practicing psychologist

Offenders often tell me they’d like to hear advice from someone who’s been where they are - a person who’s  successfully turned his or her life around.  So today I’m launching a new feature – Straight Talk – which I hope will do just that.

Dr. Paul K. Fauteck, Psy.D,  is a forensic psychologist and retired expert witness for the Cook County Court system in Chicago.  He’s also a reformed felon – the designated black sheep of a dysfunctional family who decided on a career in crime at 13 and quit school after he was caught stealing from football players’ lockers.  He quickly graduated to auto theft and burglary, losing his first partner who was killed by the police at 18.  Undeterred, Fauteck got involved with a gang writing counterfeit cashiers checks. By 21, he was doing time  in federal prison.

When he got out four years later, Fauteck had $20, a GED and a challenging road ahead of him.  He took a series of low-paying jobs, eventually finding some success as an advertising copywriter.  Along the way, he got some therapy and came to understand the behaviors that had been holding him back.  He also developed a keen interest in psychology, returning to school to earn his Master’s degree in 1976 and opening his own counseling practice.  In 2001, he wrote the book he wished he’d had when he got out: Going Straight: An Ex-Offender and Psychologist Tells You Why and How. Reviewers describe it as a no-nonsense guide on how to move beyond the criminal mindset and live a productive life.

Recently I had a chance to talk with Dr. Fauteck about his experiences and what he’s learned from his work with other ex-offenders:

Let’s start out with a little background.  What would you say got you started down the wrong path?

My family situation wasn’t the best. I was the scapegoat, the kid who wasn’t wanted.  But I could always get attention or help as long as I was  behaving antisocially.   That said, I don’t want to give impression that I or anyone else can blame their circumstances for criminal decisions.  Plenty of people grew up in the same or worse situations and didn’t go out and break the law.  I had to take responsibility for that. I was angry at the world, and I didn’t feel comfortable in normal society.  I wanted to be in charge.  My idea of that was playing by my own rules, not society’s rules.

What made you want to change?    Was there a turning point?

Well in truth I vacillated for a while even after I went to prison. I was not a model prisoner.  I spent time in solitary.  I even learned some new rackets. But it was dawning on me that this was a really dumb  way to live. I was tired of people telling me what to do.  Then, a few months before I got out, my father died.  He was in his mid-70s.  That hurt a lot because he was the only member of my family I felt I could love and respect.  He’d always loved me in spite of everything.  And here, the last place he’d seen me was in a prison waiting room.   That’s when I said, that’s it. I’m not coming back.

A lot of offenders say they’re never going back, but nearly two-thirds are rearrested within a couple of years.  Why is “going straight” so difficult?

I believe the biggest obstacle is the offender. I was certainly my biggest problem.  I intended to be a good guy, but I didn’t know what that meant.  I didn’t know what to do.

Going straight is hard because it’s not just a matter of changing what you do.  It’s a matter of changing who you are. There’s so much more to a criminal lifestyle than just breaking the law.  You have a lot of attitudes beliefs, behaviors and associations that aren’t constructive.  I didn’t know how to be straight.  I had a short temper.  I was wonderful at making excuses for everything.  I was also good at deceiving people.  I lost a lot of jobs just because of my attitude.  I could always find someone else to blame, and I didn’t take criticism well at all.  Most of the time, I was able to avoid swinging a fist at someone. But I did some very foolish things.  I didn’t plan ahead. I didn’t know how to manage money.  I didn’t know how to be normal American citizen.   A lot of ex-cons are like that.

So how did you eventually change?   What do ex-offenders need to do to turn their lives around?

There was stuff I had to learn over a long period of time.  I was close to going back to the old ways and getting myself in trouble again so many times.  I think it’s a miracle that I made it through.

One of the things I came to understand is that different criminals have different motivations, but in some ways they’re alike.  They have these thinking habits that are likely to cause problems for society and for themselves.  If I spend a lot of time sitting around feeling sorry for myself — worrying that I don’t have as much money as I should have and wallowing, for example –  that can lead to some criminal behavior in the same way looking at pornography might affect a child molester.  What I had to do was learn to catch myself in those “pre-decision” moments.  When I first got out, I was so lonely and frustrated that I was angry all the time.  I would feel anger building up in me, and I had to learn to stop and take a breath right then.  I had to walk away.  I had to say I don’t want to go back to that behavior.   Too many people don’t catch themselves in that pre-decision state.

Are there other triggers or situations that ex-offenders need to avoid?

As I said, one of the worst things the ex-con has to deal with is loneliness.  It’s difficult to just walk up to someone and say, “Hi, I’m an ex-offender.”   But you always know people who will welcome you with open arms – the criminal element.  You know where to find them and that’s not always the best thing.  Sometimes other offenders can understand your situation, and that can be beneficial.  St. Leonard’s House in Chicago has counselors who are former offenders, and their program works very well.

The problem when you put a bunch of ex-offenders together is this:   they’re all trying to learn new ways to think and form new habits, but one of them is going to have that moment.  It’s what Glenn D. Walters, author of The Criminal Lifestyle, calls the F—- It  Moment.  That’s the moment that you slip, and whatever you’ve been thinking about, whatever your plans were, none of it matters.  That’s when  you commit a crime.

People also backslide because they set themselves up. They don’t plan ahead very well.  The criminal-thinking kind of guy will take off on a road trip without enough money.   Or because of laziness he’s more prone to be unemployed.  Then it becomes, ‘I got my last paycheck weeks ago.  What else could I do?  I didn’t have any choice.”  I would say, “you had a choice to not wait that long before you dealt with the situation.”

Do you think ex-offenders today face different challenges than you did?

When I got out there weren’t a lot of programs to help convicted offenders,  which is one of the reasons I wrote the book.  Now you have many more services.   But in some ways I think it’s much harder for people than when I got out.  These days, it’s so much easier to find out whether someone has a record.  It’s also become the norm to think someone with a felony record is likely to re-offend.  So it’s more difficult to find jobs and get a fresh start.  One of the most important things an ex-felon has to do is to learn to discuss his criminal record, especially with potential employers.

What advice would you offer to someone just getting out?

Take advantage of the help that’s offered, but don’t expect people to do it for you.  Don’t sit around waiting for a miracle.   Going straight isn’t a one-time decision. Becoming a pro-social citizen is a process.  It can take a while, depending on how deeply immersed a person is in criminal lifestyle, and how much of their existence is built around criminal activities.  But it can be done, and it’s worth it.

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21 Comments

Filed under criminal records, ex-offender psychology, jobs ex-offenders, starting over, taking responsibility

21 responses to “Straight Talk: Dr. Paul K. Fauteck, from felon to practicing psychologist

  1. Thanks for this post. Dr. Fauteck presents much for reflection. Most immediately, however, I take issue with his point that the ex-offender’s biggest obstacle is him-or- herself. While ultimate responsibility for success in life rests with the individual, our society has made successful reentry too difficult for most ex-offenders.

    Former offenders, in order to successfully get through the obstacle course called reentry, must function as virtual supermen and women, emotionally and psychologically. No other cohort of people are so systematically rejected. Indeed, I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that the reentry experience, in many ways, ultimately proves more traumatic than the prison experience itself.

    That said, I will read Dr. Fauteck’s book, as well as the Walters work referenced in the post. I applaud both of them for their effort to address the experience of former offenders with a healthy dose of humanity.

  2. Mr. Walker certainly has a valid point: Difficulty in finding employment is a major hurdle. Prejudice against anyone with a rap sheet is more rigid than it was when I was released. On the other hand, there are resources available today — this website being one example — that weren’t around in 1959. I do enough volunteer work in this field to know that anyone CAN find a job. For the ex-con, it may be a lot harder, but it’s still not impossible, and we didn’t get those records by singing too loud in church! The offender is still the major obstacle because those who think pro-socially, not anti-socially, know that commiting a crime is never the right answer. I wish Mr. Walker good luck. I hope he does read my book, and that he’s working AT LEAST forty hours every week to find a job.

    • You both make good points. Ex-offenders face two huge challenges – one internal and one posed by society. Unfortunately, the only thing a person looking to start over can really control is his or her own attitude and behavior. That’s why so much of the focus is on the individual.

      • Some very good points are made in regards to the ex-convict back in society and their struggles. However, it is the duty of the state or federal courts to establish a safety net for ex-felons when they are released, at least 98% of them because that’s how many people plea guilty to criminal charges everyday. Unfornate for the courts, you’ve been sentencing people pursuant to an unconstitutional statute and law!

  3. Adam Willis

    Dr. Fauteck I am currently enrolled in a technical college and writing a paper on felons and their debt to society and I was wondering if you might be able to take some time to do an interview with me to gather information for my paper? I am a felon coming up on my five year mark to be eligible for an expungement. I have found out how hard life can be in michigan and around the country with a felony and trying to find a job with the economy the way it is and have decided to write about it. Any help and insight that you could give me would be greatly appericated.

  4. Berent Delener

    Dr. Fauteck your story is giving me some hope. I am a senior receiving my bachelors in psychology at the State University of New York. I want to practice or teach psychology, but I have a problem. I have been convicted of a felony DUI. I am frustrated and do not know what to do. Do I have any chance? I do have a connection in education and can receive references from numerous deans and professor of schools around the country because of my father. I also have a certificate of rehabilitation. I do not know if this is good enough. My concern is, should i give up my dream because i have no chance, and change my course of study? Or do I continue my course of study for my masters and phd and hope the board will allow me to receive a license? Any type of advice would be appreciated. Thank you so much.

    • Berent and Adam,

      I know that Dr. Fauteck has lots of great insight and I was lucky to have him share some of it here at Out and Employed. Hopefully, he will stop back by to comment. But you can also reach him directly and read more of his thoughts at http://www.going-straight.com, which is listed in my “useful links.” Hope this helps and good luck to you both.

  5. Lee

    I committed a b-felony arson in 2004 when I was having psychological issues from undiagnosed bipolar. I am clear and in college again, but I didn’t continue pursuing my psychology I started before the incident because I assumed I could not be licensed with a felony. I am currently in Computer Information Technology at Purdue and am not sure I wasn’t better off in psychology. What are the options for a felon being licensed in a state like Indiana? Haven’t found any straight answers online. What do you recommend? CIT is a more indemand degree, so I figured I’d have a better shot in a field in need like computers. I liked psychology, but I want to get a degree I will have the best chance of getting a job with. I’m not sure where I want to focus my efforts.

    • Lee, You’ve asked a really good question and a common one. Basically, a felony isn’t a ban to getting licensed in a number of professions including psychology. Let me do a little more research and I will post the answer on my blog.

      Kathy

    • Annie

      Lee, I am in the very same situation except mine was from undiagnosed PTSD. Sending out my best wishes.

  6. Pingback: Can you get professional license with a felony? « Out and Employed

  7. Christina

    I’m also curious about obtaining licensing with a criminal record. I’ll be graduating with a bachelor degree in Psychology next semester and have been told that I should continue my education by applying to a doctorate program; however I don’t want to spend five years in a doctorate program only to find out that my past criminal activities won’t allow me to be licensed. My arrest was in 1992 for felony drug sales. It has since been sealed (not expunged) and I’ve maintained a clean criminal history.

    • Michael

      Christina, I have been wondering the same thing. I’m currently in the middle of my college education, and not sure which direction to take it. I have a felony for burglary when I was 18, and am now 26. I have been in no trouble since, and served four years in the army, including service in Iraq. I want to become a psychologist, but are we wasting our time?

  8. Pam

    What state are you in that allows a felon to get a license? I’m two classes from my Masters in Counseling Psych and can’t get a job at McDonalds because of my felony record.

  9. Riston White

    So, I am to understand, that it is possible to become a practicing Psychologist, with multiple felonies and make a living? That there are places that will offer employment to an ex-offender (with non-violent thefts,and drug possession) who has earned his Masters in the field? If this is true, it changes the whole dynamic! Would someone who has done this respond?thx

  10. victoria cimino

    have a record of felony drug posession. i have an extremely strong interest in the area of psychology. long preceding my past history. i have been frustrated as my past has cut me off at every turn i make. i have always had the gift, i have been told, to be in this field. also have the where with all to accomplish this. i have worked hard and in working closely with a drug counselor was told i was “perfect” for the proffession. would love to talk to someone about this. will my past prevent this?

  11. Summer

    In 2003 I was put on a 5 year probation in two different counties for Felony hot check charges. Although I plead out by admitting guilt. It wasn’t entirely my fault. The guy I was dating stole some check books of mine and withdrew all of my money out of my account because he had a girlfriend that worked at my bank. They forged a lot of the checks. I also wrote checks not knowing that my account was drained. But, rather than chancing spending time in prison I plead out and was placed on probation. I did have a couple of revocations. One was due to my probation officer visiting the wrong apartment when he did a home visit because I was unable to walk due to a torn ligament in my knee. The other was because he gave me permission to move but before I could visit the probation department at the new state he had placed a warrant for me. I am wanting to go back to college. Though I don’t know what would be the best option for me. I am torn between nursing, business, and counseling. Would you have any advice for me?

    • Summer

      Oh and although I had the 2 revocations in one county. I completed probation in both counties in 4 years. The judge determined that since I had paid all of my fines and never tested dirty and went to all of my meeting that I was able then there was no reason to keep me on probation or sentence me to prison. Although the felonies were in two different counties. it was the same town so I had the same probation officer for both. The courts decided to move one of the counties probation over to the county I lived in.

  12. Ashley Johnson

    I really enjoyed the article and I am an exfelon who just began my associates in psychology and I want to further it along to my masters or p.hd. Im glad I read your article because it gives me hope that ill become a successful psychologist one day . Thank you for the advice and encouragement

  13. MsPhillips28

    I got Habitual Motor offender in 2005. I got my drivers Licence back in 2009. I can not get a job, either. I am a single mother and I have to rely an state assistance and family and friends. With the new expungements law, for Tn, I still can not get my record expunged. I was told yesterday, that a person can only get their record cleared if they have only been charged or conviction with 1 crime. So, this exludes me. I do not know what I can do as career. I lost my CNA licence in March because I could not get a job in the field. I can not further my education in the medical field, like I want too. I do know where I can get job. I can not work construction, I am a woman. I’m stuck with this and relying on state assistance. I wish I did not have to rely on the governent to put food in mine and my daughters belly. I do know why I could get my drivers licence back if I can not even get a job. Seems like they just want to give me enough rope to hang myself!?

  14. John

    Thank you for posting this. I am a convicted felon in a Clinical Psychology Master’s program. I came upon this post while searching for some kind of validation for what seems at times an impossible dream. It is an encouragement beyond words to encounter a post such as this. Thank you.

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