Is a new identity the answer?

I recently received this question from a reader::

Q: My son has been out of prison for almost a year and a half.  In that time he has applied for jobs everywhere, fast food, construction, retail — you name it —  but no one will hire him. Every time they do a background check his conviction comes up and he never hears from the people again.  And if he is honest on his application or in an interview, forget it!  No matter how much he tries to explain that he has changed it doesn’t seem to work. And all this because of  this for one stupid mistake he made at 21 — a mistake that HE HAS PAID FOR!   I don’t know what he is going to do if he can’t find something soon.   A friend of ours says he should get his social security number changed so his record will not come up in the background checks.  My son really wants to do it — he is so desperate.   I feel we are running out of choices.  Does this even work without changing his name and if so, how can we do it?

A:  I’m really sorry you son is having such a difficult time.  It’s a tough job market out there for everyone, and having a record only makes things harder.  I can sympathize with your son’s frustration and understand why the idea of starting fresh would be appealing. 

Unfortunately, changing his social security number is unlikely to help him.  Although the government does give  new numbers in cases where  abuse, harassment or identity theft are involved, a) you have to prove it, and b) it can be costly since of your benefits are linked to your social security number. In addition, any new social security number would still be linked to the old one in federal records, which means your son’s conviction would still come up in a background search as noted here.    
The only way your son is truly going to put his past behind him is by building a record of work experience and achievement going forward.  You don’t mention his skills or  how much education he has, but while he continues to look for work this is where I’d focus. Whether he’s looking at getting a college degree, training or certification, there are a variety of grants, scholarships and government financing that can make the cost of these programs affordable, as I’ve noted here.  If your son is interested in learning a trade like plumbing or being an electrician, apprenticeships offer the opportunity to be paid while he learns.

In the meantime, it might be worthwhile for him  to visit  a reentry organization near where you live, (you can look for one here) or  a One-stop Career Center. These places typically have counselors used to dealing with ex-offenders who might be able to help your son  with his resume or interview skills.  If you belong to a church, he might also consider volunteering there on community-related or other projects.  This would enable him to do something constructive and develop contacts who might be able to serve as references or help him find paid work.

I know this isn’t necessarily the answer you were looking for, but I hope this helps. Good luck to you both and be sure and check back to let me know how you’re doing.

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Filed under social security ex-offenders, starting over

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