I have another class “graduating” today, which means the nervousness has been kicking in. After weeks of evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, working on resumes and interview skills, many of my students are voicing doubts. Who’s going to hire me with a felony on my record? Can someone with a criminal background really get a job in the “outside” world?
The answer, of course, is yes, though it won’t necessarily be easy. That’s one reason I’m giving each of them a copy of the story that follows (and why I decided to excerpt it here.) This particular ex-offender, who lives in Texas, faced down similar fears. She didn’t have overnight success either, but she definitely has the right attitude. She also proves the adage that, if you’re willing to put the work in and show that you’ve changed, it only takes one employer to give you a second chance.
After 8 years of incarceration and a successful 20 months following my release, I’m still hanging in there and making things happen. I hardly remember the person I was before, but every once in awhile I catch her riding by in a car or walking past me in the street. I don’t like that girl very much…In fact, I despise her, but I have to think of her from time to time so I won’t forget where she was and how far she has progressed. I actually like myself now…love myself, in fact. Not a narcissistic type love, but a self respect I that I needed in order to become a productive member of society.
There are no specific answers to why I became a heroin addict, or why I committed the crimes I committed. For the second and third years of my incarceration when I was finally toxin free and could think clearly, I tried to find a logical explanation for why a college-educated middle class American would become what I had become. After a while of trying to figure it all out, I realized that I had to just push on. I could waste the rest of my incarceration or I could make the best of it. I promised myself that I would not serve an 8-year sentence in vain and that I would use every opportunity available to regain my life and my self-respect.
And hey, it worked! I’m now employed as a research biologist in a government lab. It was a long shot since I had a violent crime and I was on parole, but I did it. I knew there would be tons of scrutiny, but all they could tell me was no. “No” never killed anybody right? Don’t think I walked right out the prison doors and walked into a swanky made-in-the-shade job. For the first 7 months I had to work landscaping and cutting grass to make ends meet. I worked two jobs and sometimes 14 hour days, but I knew I couldn’t give up. Even after I got the lab job, I still worked a second job. I prayed constantly and still do. I cried sometimes and still do. I get snide comments and probably always will. People doubt me and probably always will.
None of that matters…because I’m free and if I survived the humiliation of being a drug addict, a thief, a prisoner, a liar, a cheat…Then I can definitely survive and even thrive on the humility one can experience in being a simple, honest, hardworking person. It’s true… I don’t drive the fanciest car or always have the money I want. But I have what I need and it’s enough to allow me to go to bed each night with a good conscience. It’s enough to remain free. It’s enough for me.
It’s worth noting that this woman ends her story by saying that she thinks the length of her sentence was the key to her success because it gave her the time she needed to really be willing to change. What do you think? What can you do, or did you do during your sentence to help turn your life around?