I watched an episode on MSNBC called “Lockup: Raw”. This man on the show had just finished a ten year sentence for armed robbery. While he was in prison, he decided he wasn’t all about crime, he was all about living the good life honestly. He gets released from prison and his family is delighted he is out of prison. He is happy to be out of prison and he’s excited about getting on to be a law abiding citizen. This man has intelligence, he is full of hope, and he knows if he could just get legal, he would have a good life and stay out of trouble. The unfortunate thing, what made me both angry and sad at the same time, he goes to many places of business and when they ask him about his history, he honestly tells them. A diner turned him down. A grocery store turned him down, a repo company turned him away, and even a smaller mom-and-pop store turned him down. He made the remark that he wasn’t ready to quit looking and go back to committing crime. He was representative of what happens to a lot of criminals reformed by prison and desiring to work for a normal life. The doors close to the better way to live and open endlessly to crime that most released felons give up the good fight. Why? Our society has made the punishment for the individual who commits the crime. Even though they did their time, no matter what that crime might be save pedophilia, that person should be given a second chance at walking the right path and isn’t.
No one wants to hire a felon. So what is an ex-felon going to do when he or she knows that there are no chances out there to thwart criminal activity? They are going back to what they know they can do to put food on the table, to have a roof over his or her head, and be quick fix to bigger problem, criminal behavior. It’s so easy for them to fall through the cracks because we created those cracks. On every application at every business there is a question: Have you ever been convicted of a felony? To most, the guy on Lockup clearly showed, that regardless of the significance of your crime that you will always be condemned to write on every application your most defeating decision to break the law. You will forever be labeled a “felon” even if you did your time and you paid for that crime. I think that is unfair and cruel and unusual punishment. The guy on Lockup had to go to every employer and say “I did my ten years, learned from it, and I’m looking for a fresh start”. Not all felons are willing to walk the life without criminal behavior, but maybe there would be less repeat offenders if maybe, just maybe, they could get a job more lucrative than spitting crack. When does someone serve their time and hear “no” from our society? Almost never. Our society is soaked in passing judgment on people, so much so that often that person who did ten years, got out, and wanted to get straight can never do so in the eyes of people who say “Once a felon, always a felon” and that’s not true. There are people who serve their time and are supposed to reenter society as a person that has done their crime without being held captive by such negative expectations. What should really be going on is: “Hey, your past is your past. When can you start?”
The purpose of a punishment to fit the crime is that once the prison term ends and so does his debt to society. This release is his or her second chance. So many employers don’t give felons a second chance because of the labelled box they put the felon in. They trap them there and when trapped, any creature in existence does, he or she will do whatever necessary so he or she can eat, have a warm bed, diapers for the kids, and get somewhere besides poor. In essence, they are being punished after serving their punishment and is therefore forever a dark mark on his or her name. To me, I find it ridiculous that someone who just served 10 years as a punishment has to be punished each and every day by someone who neglects the fact that this person is a living being, with rights, who has feelings, who wants better for their family and worked hard to get their life on the right track. Being re-punished by not getting hired for something one has done the time for is absurd. It can make or break a person, both in mind and in spirit. Not all felons are felons for life. Not all of them deserve to be shown the door in their life. Not all of them repeat offending. All it takes is one “yes” to change a person’s life forever.