On second chances…

I’ll admit I had a very visceral reaction when I first read an excerpt in The New York Times from Ivy-league educated Piper Kerman’s upcoming book on her year in federal prison.  It wasn’t helped when an essay by her husband Larry Smith ran in another section of the Times the very next week.  In fact, I immediately registered my displeasure by firing off a letter to the newspaper, which was published yesterday.   I took the Times to task for, among other things, perpetuating the idea that some offenders are more equal than others, and that Kerman’s elevated status somehow made her special, when most ex-offenders would never even get their voices heard let alone a book deal.

Then, it being Easter week and all, I went on to write an essay about whether ex-offenders can redeem themselves.

Seeing the disconnect yet?  It took me awhile too.  But then I was reminded of an earlier post in this very blog where I talked about Michael Vick.  There was a lot of furor when the football star finished his sentence for illegal dog fighting and immediately got a  $10 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.  My take at the time: get over it.

I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of former felons who are equally if not more deserving than Vick. It’s just that a superstar jock is going to get the better deal, criminal record or no. That’s our society. It stinks. It’s unfair. Then again, so is the fact that teachers are poorly paid, while the bankers who helped ruin our economy still appear to rule the world — but don’t get me started. Perhaps some day all these things will change. Right now you need to focus on your situation and how to bring about the best things for yourself going forward.

That in turn got me to thinking.  This blog is about starting over and helping ex-offenders.  If you believe – as I profess to – that once offenders have served their time and paid their debt to society they deserve a second chance, then that should be true whether the person has had every advantage or none at all.   Her background aside, Kerman’s experience locked up has no doubt given her insights that might be beneficial to readers of this blog.  She also might be able to reach people who would normally tune out. So early last week I reached out to her to see if she would agree to an interview.

Hopefully, I’m not drinking the publicity kool aid.  But keep an eye on this space and we’ll see.  And let me know your thoughts.  Are privileged offenders less deserving of second chances?  Is their debt to society different?

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4 Comments

Filed under discrimination, prison reform, second chances, starting over

4 responses to “On second chances…

  1. billkarabinus

    Wow, you know I have had some thoughts on this and I can say that at the time of Michael Vicks release I was astounded that he made it back into the public eye in a favorable way and was shocked that he was signed to his contract for such big $$. I must though admit that there is a very big part of me that was indeed jealous and filled with self pity that I, an ex-offender can’t even find work and here is this “Privileged” ex-con that gets this break so I can imagine what John Q Public out there thinks when they see something like this. I am sure it infuriates them and of course their reaction would be “The guys a criminal!” What I have since come to realize is that in a very special way people like Michael have a rare chance to prove to society that we, as ex-offenders can indeed accomplish, overcome and rise to any place in the human race that we choose and to believe that we cannot is simply ridiculous! I do not see these individuals as “privileged” I see them as ambassadors of grace!!

    • Very well said, Bill. It was not lost on me that I took exception to the fellow writer’s reentry as opposed to that of the professional football player…

  2. Anyone who commits a mistake, has served the lawfully imposed sentence, and sincerely wants to live a responsible and productive life should have the opportunity to do so. We don’t need to talk about whether anybody “deserves” a second chance. Public safety, governmental budgetary limitations, and the simple principal of fairness all require that we find ways to more effectively support successful reentry.

  3. Pingback: What I learned in prison: an interview with author and ex-offender Piper Kerman « Out and Employed

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