The pen hovers over the simple square on the application and hesitates.
The chance of getting hired plummets, if the felony conviction box is checked yes.
Why aren't more questions asked, and boxes for checking?
Did you serve your time?
Were you legally released?
Are you done breaking the law?
Do you want to remain out of prison?
Do you want to contribute to society?
Have you renounced your previous lifestyle?
Do you want to better the world around you?
Do you want to serve the customers and help the company grow?
Are you going to beat the odds, break the cycle, and be counted among the 33% that don't wear handcuffs again?
Why can't all these yes's add up to more than the one box at the top?
600,000 incarcerated people will leave the prison walls behind and become our neighbors and co-workers this year. The stigma, shame, and mistrust of the waiting world contribute to the rearrest of two-thirds of all inmates.
I spoke with a friend a couple of weeks after he finished his prison sentence and beginning to rebuild a life. He admits he was guilty and has now served his time. A loving family and a small network of friends welcomed him home.
He recounted how well he has it compared to those that will follow him. He shuddered. Most return to nothing at best, and a world of temptation, at worst.
Growing up, TV taught me that the only people with tattoos were sailors and ex-cons. Times have changed. I'm a former sailor without tattoos, and my son just got inked with his fifth tattoo today. It has become harder to pick these returning neighbors out of a crowd.
While opening your basement as a half-way house is one end of the spectrum, it is time to re-evaluate how we care for these women and men who have paid their debt. It can start by looking into the eyes of a fellow imperfect human being, sincerely asking, "how are you?" and waiting for the response.
Going Further: What scares you about engaging someone who has been in prison? What informs this fear? Do you see them as a fellow human? What is one step you can take to reach out to a former prisoner that could use the help?