Category Archives: breaking the law

Will Tim Riggins be able to find a job after he’s released?

I usually try to keep my facts and fiction fairly separate on this blog.  But watching this season’s final  episode of “Friday Night Lights,” I was struck by how well the show captured the character of so many who end up serving time:  good people who’ve just made very bad decisions. 

With Tim Riggins, the troubled, but talented football heartbreaker from Dillon, Texas, you always got the sense that here was a guy who could go either way.  Abandoned by his parents, he was essentially raised by his nere-do-well brother Billy, who’s forever  coming up with get-rich-quick schemes that skirt the edge of legality.  In the first couple of seasons, Riggins weaknesses for alcohol and women, as well as his tendency to take the path of least resistance  were a great source of drama, but more often than not his downfall.  

Tim Riggins in happier times

This year, he’s graduated from football stardom and headed off to college to finally make something of himself. Only college isn’t for him and soon he’s back in Dillon, living in a trailer owned by a cocktail waitress he hooked up with and working in a repair shop with his brother. When he finds out Billy is trafficking in stolen cars on the side, he knows it’s illegal, but can’t resist one last chance to make a quick buck. 

Same old Tim, right? Were any of us surprised when the police showed up?

But here’s where the writers did something interesting.  Yes, Tim is caught, but he’s also already changed more than even he has realized.  For one, he’s spent the year resisting the high schooler who’s been throwing herself at him.  He also refused to take advantage of her mother.  And in the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, he takes the fall for both himself and his brother, so Billy can stay with his wife and his newborn.  In other words, as he throws off his old “football star” persona to begin serving his time in jail, he’s already on the path to redemption.  

It will be interesting to see what happens next.  What will Riggins do after he gets out?  Will he be able to find a job?  I know that actor  Taylor Kitsch, who plays Riggins,  has gone on to feature films might not be back next year, which is too bad.  It would be interesting to see the writers explore his reentry.   Perhaps they could shed a similarly realistic light on the challenge of starting over. 

Anyway, if you haven’t seen the episode, you can catch it here for a few more weeks. 

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As an additional note:  this will probably be my last posting for the summer.  It’s time to take some time off for fun and family.  In the interim, I hope you all enjoy the rest of the summer.   See you back here in September.

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The humility challenge

A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space.

— writer and feminist Gloria Steinem

The student was a young woman, not long out of high school.  And she seemed extremely sure of herself, which might have been why she was struggling with this particular job interview question.

“But I don’t have any weaknesses.”  She looked me straight in the eye.

In previous classes, we’d discussed the reason employers often ask about what you consider your strengths and weaknesses during interviews.  We’d talked about how everyone has weaknesses and how bosses often look for a measure of self-knowledge and maturity in your responses.  The key to answering this question, according to most career experts, is using it to highlight an area or trait you know you need to improve, and hopefully to demonstrate how you’ve either worked to correct it, or learned to compensate for your shortcomings.

A classmate, for example, had offered that she had struggled on occasion to learn things from manuals.  “But I’m very hands-on and I’ve demonstrated repeatedly that I learn quickly by doing.”

“I tend to take on too much responsibility,” said another.  “But over time I’ve become much better at delegating some of that work to others.”

This particular student, however, was stymied.

“There must be some area where you’d like to improve,” I offered.

She thought for a moment, then smiled slightly.   “I’m too competitive,” she said.  “I just always have to be the best.”

It wasn’t necessarily a bad answer, particularly in a society that loves victory as much as ours.  So just to see where she’d go with it, I asked her — as a recruiter no doubt would — how her competitiveness had hurt her.

Again, she looked perplexed.

“What about times when you couldn’t be the best,” I suggested.  “How have you handled that? ” What about academics?  Had she excelled there and been competitive too? Or had that been an area where she had a harder time?

“Grades didn’t matter,” she said.  “I didn’t go half the time.  That’s how it was if you were an athlete.”

Say what you will about this answer, she was honest at least.  And hardly alone in her attitude.  One of the challenges of revealing your weaknesses is that there’s seemingly no upside to it. Our culture doesn’t just love winners, we worship them.   We put them on a pedestal where they can do no wrong. We make allowances.  We go out of our way to revere “specialness” and ignore anything that might smack of less than perfect.

Then we expect that somewhere along the way, the same people that we’ve elevated are going to become introspective and acquire some humility. We expect the kids who look up to them to understand this.  At the same time, we seldom teach it, we don’t emphasize it.  Yet as a character trait, humility is as essential as perseverance — for all of us, but particularly for those looking to start their lives over.

For one, a sense of entitlement, lack of humility, feeling that you don’t have to play by society’s rules — spin it as you will — is often a direct contributor to criminal activity.  Researchers  long ago identified a distorted feeling of being “special” or above the law as a critical component of the criminal mindset.

Secondly, explaining your past to the general public is a humbling experience, as countless ex-offenders will attest.  As a former felon you may be forced to take a job you consider beneath your abilities because it’s the only way to feed your family.  You may be denied jobs for which you’d be perfect.  People may doubt what you say and question your character.

Dealing with this is going to require not only an ability to accept your situation and persevere, but as James Walker noted so eloquently in his recent guest post, the humility to acknowledge your mistakes, and yes, your weaknesses.

Otherwise, as Gloria Steinem observed, you do risk trading one prison for another, don’t you?

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Women and addiction: the challenges

Today was supposed to be a day off for me after 31 straight of blogging…

Alas, I couldn’t resist after stumbling upon this new government report , courtesy of Crime In America.  It was prepared by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the HHS, and lays out how addiction is different in women than men.  

I know, duh!  But it’s good to see it documented along with recommendations on treatment.  This is near and dear to my heart as so many of the offenders I work with, both male and female struggle with  substance abuse — in fact, it’s often what led to or had a role in their arrest.  As researchers note:

 Numerous factors influence the reasons for initiation of substance use among women, and a number of these factors are more prevalent among women than men. Women often report that stress, negative affect, and relationships precipitate initial use. In fact, women are often introduced to substance use by a significant relationship such as boyfriend, family member, or close friend. Though genetics also may be a significant risk factor for women, more research supports familial influence—a combination of genetic and environment effects. Less is known about familial influence of illicit drugs, but parental alcohol use increases the prevalence of alcohol use disorders among women by at least 50 percent. Family of origin characteristics play a role too. Exposure to chaotic, argumentative, and violent households, or being expected to take on adult responsibilities as a child, are other factors associated with initiation and prevalence of substance use disorders among the female population.

Other notable and alarming points:

  • Women are more likely to take temporary  breaks in their usage for caretaking responsibilities.
  • Women’s earlier patterns of use are leading to higher rates of dependency.
  • Women progress faster from initiation to full blown addiction and its consequences.

The report lays out a road map for treatments that are more successful and applicable to women as well.  It’s long (382 pages), but packed with info and well worth checking out if you or a loved one struggle with addiction issues.

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Remembering the battles soldiers fight — away and at home

On this Memorial Day, I find myself thinking about a couple of people I know.  These particular folks not only served their country — in some cases with much distinction — but in a twist that’s become all too familiar, they also served time in prison or jail.

Sadly, the longer America has been at war, the more common this scenario  has become.   So common, in fact, that the prevalence of combat veterans who get  in trouble with the law after they return has been well-documented — In stories like this one from the Salt Lake City Tribune. Or  in the “The Wounded Platoon” , a television documentary airing earlier this month, which opened with a tale of how three army combat buddies had killed a fourth after a night of drinking in Colorado Springs.

As these reports note, it’s difficult to find hard statistics on incarcerated veterans, let alone the whys behind their offenses.  This oft-cited special report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics looked at the ex-military population in prisons and jails in 1998 and found a preponderance of Vietnam War vets, higher-levels of education and people who were more likely to be addicted to alcohol than drugs.

But new wars have brought new challenges.  “The Wounded Platoon,” depicts how the need for troops prompted the military to accept recruits with criminal and juvenile records who might have been rejected in the past.  Faced with a spike in post-traumatic stress disorder during IED-laden guerrilla wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military also began to allow soldiers in combat to take prescription drugs, among them antidepressants and Ambien. Some believe this may account for higher incidences of  post-war drug and alcohol abuse.

Given the difficulties of readjusting to life outside a war zone — and the little support available  —  it’s not a big leap to imagine how a combination of substance abuse and psychological disorders could lead a veteran to cross the line. Granted, many in the service had problems before they ever put on a uniform.  As one commenter noted on the story in the Salt Lake City Tribune, some “would have committed a crime regardless.”  Still, the 2000 BOJ report found that veterans were more likely to be serving a sentence for a violent offense than those who had never served.  They were also more likely to be older and first-time offenders.

I’m not saying those who have broken the law should be exempt from punishment because of their military service.  It just seems that perhaps military service needs to be factored in more.  This was brought home to me earlier this year when I met an offender whose profile didn’t make sense to me.  This woman had spent nearly a decade in the service, fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and received commendations and assignments that required a high level of security.   The incident that got her in trouble was alcohol-fueled and happened shortly after her return to the U.S.   Obviously, I don’t know all the details because I wasn’t there, but the idea that the crime warranted time in jail as opposed to some other sort of psychological or substance abuse treatment seemed bizarre.

This is not just an issue in the U.S., by the way.   Veterans in Prison, an organization founded by a group of British ex-soldiers tracks similar problems in the UK.  In 2008, for example, a report found that 1 in 11 people serving time in British jails was a former member of the armed forces.

What can we do?  That’s a good question.  Fortunately, as more soldiers reenter civilian life, there seems to be a growing  awareness of the challenges they face.   This was reflected in a California ruling  last year in a case involving a former Army Ranger accused of  breaking into two pharmacies to fuel his prescription drug addiction. Although he was facing up to 12 years in prison, he was given treatment as opposed to jail upon appeal.

I’m hoping to see more of this.  How about you?

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On an administrative note:  Alas, today is the official end of the WordCount Blogathon 2010. Yesterday, I reflected on what a long, often challenging, but rewarding trip it’s been.   Unfortunately, (or fortunately, for those of you who were tired of me nattering on) this means that I’ll no longer be posting daily.  But thanks to some new followers, some great ideas and lots of inspiration, I”m hoping to be able to use the longer lead time between posts to tackle some stories I’ve been meaning to get to — like ban the box and other pressing issues.

So thanks again for sticking with me for a month’s worth of posts and blog-discovery.  And a final shout-out to Michelle Rafter, who made this whole event not just possible, but loads of fun.

I hope you’ll stay tuned…..

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Filed under addiction and recovery, alternatives to incarceration, breaking the law, criminal records, ex-offender psychology, homelessness

How law-abiding are you?

Employers often claim they’re reluctant to hire ex-offenders because  they question the judgment of someone who’d do something illegal.

But what about people who’ve broken the law, but never been arrested? I know if I come clean, I have to admit that hammering down a street sign because it would look cool in my dorm room was vandalism pure and simple.  So did my two pals — both of them now lawyers — who were carrying Fox Den Drive when we were busted by campus security. (Yes, you know who you are…)

How about you?  Is your judgment and/or your record truly impeccable?   Take my quickie poll below, and we’ll see.

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Statute of depravations

This blog is about helping people rebuild their lives after they’ve done their time.  So apologies as I digress into a mini-rant about someone who’s yet to do his — and probably won’t if his friends have their way.  I’m talking about all the hand wringing over Roman Polanski , which btw is making me nuts!

I mean what’s the controversy again?  Here’s a guy who plead guilty to sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl (note not  a 17-year-old who passed for 20) and then went on the lam for 31 years.  And now we’re supposed to be up in arms that the Swiss have him and he might be extradited back to the U.S. for an “old” crime?  Or as others would have you believe, a non-crime. Please!  The idea that fellow directors like Scorsese and Woody I-Married-My-Adopted-Daughter Allen — forget the French —  are supporting this guy would be laughable if statuatory rape weren’t taken so seriously when someone not deemed a “great  auteur” commits it.

I don’t know Mr. Polanski personally, but I think we can all agree that even good people make mistakes.  Talent doesn’t stop us from doing bad things, unfortunately.  Nor should it excuse responsibility for them.  At least that’s what other lawbreakers are told when they’re forced to pay for their crimes.  Seems like it’s high time for a certain director to man up, doesn’t it?

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