A Real-life Response to Prison Reform

One of our readers was prompted by our “Policy Not Budgets Should Drive Prison Reform” post…..we think his response deserves to be shared

I stumbled upon your blog when I Googled the Georgia “Top Step” program looking for more information. Let me share my experience:

I was young and ambitious with a motivation most couldn’t understand. I didn’t have a proper mentor and ended up getting in trouble my senior year in high school. I ended up going to a state ran boot camp and it sobered me up. I was determined to do the right thing and take no short cuts, but I was legally discriminated against by the system and couldn’t get a respectable job.

I continued to get into a little trouble here and there with white-collar stuff. NOT because I hadn’t learned my lesson, but because there were no steady, thriving options for me to make a living. I couldn’t get a real-estate license, be a legal car dealer, or get my Series 7 to sell securities, so I started sub-leasing cars for a living. This is frowned upon by banks and is an unstable business model that failed 80% of the time.

I did that for many years, off and on, trying to transition into something more stable because I would go from boom to bust in a matter of months apart. You name it, I tried to do it but the only jobs that were usually open to felons were the ones that tend to be the worse to do business with. The kind of companies that NO ONE in their right mind should work for because of the way they treated their customers and their employees. I tried being self-employed at least 10 times, but I was always under funded and uninformed, basically just feeling my way through. I never really got off the ground because I didn’t have access to proper training. (On the job training is the best, but employment, STILL TODAY remains elusive).

I’ve been going through this from 18 to 35 until I decided to go to technical school. I decided on a blue-collar occupation because I felt I would have a better chance at getting a career going, rather than going for I.T. or something else. I was mistaken. They care A LOT more about your background than I thought, at least at the companies that are the most respected. I’ve been in school for the last 13 months and I’m about to graduate Top 2% of my class with a GPA of basically 4.0. I have acquired several certifications that put me above 80% of the heating and air technicians that are in the field right now. I’ve had two jobs offers from two great companies. The first, I told them about my background and they acted as if they didn’t care. However, they came back and told me my background was too heavy. The second one, I’m going through HR right now. I’ve passed the drug test and the physical, scored among the Top 5% on the aptitude test but they are waiting on my background from the state. Hopefully the TOP STEP program that’s for felon that’s offered by the State of GA will give them some comfort. Although I’m optimist, I am concerned that I may not be “insurable”.

My last felony is 9 years old since conviction. It’s been over 10 years from the day I was charged. I am extremely intelligent and well-rounded so winning a tough interview is not impossible for me. Even for jobs that I need 3 to 5 years of experience and I’m STILL a student. I sacrifice and work VERY hard so I have what it takes to be the very best at whatever I do, my background just keeps HAUNTING me! Even though, I have grown, evolved and matured mentally and spiritually, It’s almost impossible to get a real second chance in GA. If I was in Texas, NY or Philly and did my offenses there, my record would likely be expunged by now. Georgia only pardons, which means it will still show on your record. *How would YOU like to be scrunitized for the REST of your life for a few mistakes you made when you were younger and immature? It shouldn’t be so black and white.

There is no REAL path back to a normal life in GEORGIA. It will take a SERIES of miracles to get my life back on track. It has SERIOUSLY destroyed my potential for a productive marriage and has limited the positive effect I can have in my kid’s life. I am SERIOUSLY behind on child support due to the lack of financial opportunities.

T.D. Jakes has a program in Texas for felons to get their life back on track that involves education. Not only does it enlighten and expose men to new possibilities, but it’s A LOT cheaper than today’s prison. An ambitious man is only as good as his options.  If he is surrounded by bad options, he WILL choose the BEST of those bad options. However, if you focus on education and teach him valuable skills in the prison system, he WILL see a brighter future and this will (likely) slow down the recidivism and by default, create a higher quality “ex-criminal”.

If we can come up with a plan where prisons actually inspire and equip their inmate to be better, I can easily see the day when the thought of an ex-con can be transformed to a well skilled, hard-working, purposeful man, rather than a total reject that should be feared by society. We can’t do this without changing a couple of laws, adding a few more, then reallocating prison funds to new programs that promote mental growth and higher self-esteem. I have to admit, many inmate may not be interested and may be considered damaged goods, but for the ones that want a brighter path, it should be general plan for them.

Although my email is mainly about me, my motivation to keep pushing forward  is much bigger than me. I NEED to show society that people change when they want to change, but they need some sort of support system to change. I ALSO NEED to show all my brothers that are in a similar situation as me that if you work-hard and sacrifice, it will NOT be in vain. We CAN get back to a normal life IF we push hard together.

Thank you for reading my story.

Comments

  1. Good luck to you. Being from Alabama I understand your plight. In dixieland they bar you from certain professions if you’ve been convicted of a MISDEMEANOR! Pays to keep the negroes humble I guess

    • Problem #1 rises when anyone has an attitude that they’re “doomed because of your race” when in actuality someone made a choice that subjected them to that states justice system…no matter how unfair it may be. We live in a country where we can reinvent ourselves 24 times in 24 hours – so I suggest being “victim” to Alabama’s penal system may be telling you to rise up, join forces & try to push for some changes.
      The REAL freedom fighters & Negroes that gave up their lives refused to be beaten, burned, lynched, raped, bombed or boogey-maned into humility…and that was without benefit of all the resources, education, technology & freedoms we have [abuse & take for granted] today!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • I never heard the young man mention race he was speaking of the PRISON SYSTEM as a whole. read with understanding not with opinion

  2. Have you considered relocating; say to California. It MAY BE more forgiving; I do not know. Please do not give up hope. We need you. For your skills & talents and ALSO to tell your story of Redemption and ultimately SUCCESS. PEACE & BLESSINGS ( a job/career and a mate)

    • Great response…or if the gentleman isn’t able to relocate to another state, just starting fresh in another area of town can sometimes work wonders in a persons life! Away from the routine & familiar to the point that walking each new street can be an adventure!

  3. the L word says:

    Our son is in a similar situation, though he has had landscaping & roofing jobs for the last several years.
    I was told by a friend that the sheetmetal union is desperate enough for people who can do math that they will overlook a record.
    I think part of the writer’s problem is that he appears to be looking for jobs that might require going into people’s homes, possibly alone, and that can be problematic if there’s any history of theft, burglary, or any sort of violent crime.
    Metalwork is usually on buildings & bridges under construction, though sometimes being repaired, so it doesn’t present the same problems. Likewise, landscaping and roofing are outside.
    I hope that this writer will get the chance he needs, but urge him to consider these factors if he continues to have difficulties.

    • Many states have a mandatory bonding program in place for ex-offenders seeking employment. Check with your local Employment Commission to be pointed to authorized organizations that offer employment, bonding & job services for people with a criminal record.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story, opinion & commitment to “find a better way.” I’m very familiar with Pastor Jakes outreach to the formerly incarcerated & a few others that I plan to model as I work with organizations in VA that serve not only the person incarcerated, but, also the needs of extended family members affected by the sentence.
    Stay encouraged, keep following the narrow bath & trust me, you’re right…”this isn’t about you, but you’re being shaped & molded into the leader that’s going to show others a better way!” No certificates, medals or awards can recognize or document what you TRULY know & are capable of achieving. You’ve walked a road that many only think they know about from watching tv or visiting someone for a few minutes a month. Your life choices & experiences are grooming you to go to places beyond your wildest dreams…but, again, it’s not about you….it’s about how you’re going to use your “hell on earth experience” to elevate others…while doing the same for yourself. Best wishes & sincere prayers that you find wisdom, godly counsel & peace!

  5. Burroughston Broch says:

    I’ll be the contrarian.
    This person is a multiple repeat offender (prison boot camp during high school plus “I continued to get into a little trouble here and there with white-collar stuff”).
    This person also admits that knowing his/her repeat white-collar crimes were wrong “(NOT because I hadn’t learned my lesson”), yet kept committing them because he/she couldn’t get a job that involved public trust (real-estate license, legal car dealer, or Series 7 to sell securities). So, how does not being able to pursue one’s preferred career path justify repeat criminal activity? Am I to feel better that the later crimes were “white-collar” stuff?
    I have no sympathy for this person. I would have been sympathetic had the criminal activity ended after the high school prison boot camp. But this person chose to become a repeat offender.

    • Andromeda says:

      He is not asking for our sympathy, nor does he require it. He mentions the white-collar crimes as a way of saying he is not violent. He has made mistakes, he acknowledges that. What he wants and deserves is a chance to become a contributing member of society, a provider for his children, and future wife. The point he is making, I believe, is that the legal system in GA is unforgiving, even though his time was served, his repayment to society has been paid in full. He is a man who deserves a way to make a living the way he chooses, without stumbling blocks thrown up every time he attempts to make a positive step. He can’t change his past, and people like you shouldn’t dwell on it, so he should be allowed to move forward, as he’s trying to do. Figuratively speaking; GA has it’s foot on his neck, while telling him to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Isn’t that what it’s all about? If I had a job, I’d give it to him.

      • Burroughston Broch says:

        Of course he’s asking for our sympathy, just not directly.
        He wants us to support his plan to “change a few laws, add a few laws, and reallocate prison funds.” He’s an ex-con, he’s conning you, and you are falling for it.
        If you are a multiple repeat offender, you should never “have a normal life again.” It’s called punishment.
        I would be more inclined to soften rules for a one-time-only offender, but not for a multiple repeat offender.

        • If “punishment” means “never having a normal life again”, aren’t we just creating more criminals? One of the points of the piece is that cutting off all options for middle class jobs for those exiting prison leaves criminal enterprises as their only means of making enough money to realistically provide for a family. Condemning a person to a life of misery and poverty for the rest of his life after he has served the time in prison legally apportioned by the court pretty much guarantees a continued life of crime.

          • Burroughston Broch says:

            Mary, this person is a multiple repeat offender, probably all felonies.
            This person made bad repeated decisions, and gives no indication that he/she would not do so again.
            Would you give this person a free pass as if nothing had happened?
            Would you have this person in a position of trust (a middle class job, as you put it)?
            Would you trust this person with your money or your loved ones?
            This person is not prohibited from getting a job, but instead from getting the job he/she thinks is deserved. It’s ego driven.
            How far are you willing to go?

        • Jay Varges says:

          The way I’m reading this,I don’t take this guy as a real con man. I take him as a kid who messed up too young to understand the depth of his actions. Afterwards, he wanted to do right, but his options were limited to the jobs that none of us want to do. He did his time, probation..etc…WHY should he have to pay for it for the rest of his life! If he is truly a nonviolent offender, he deserves a road back to a normal life at some point. There is NO dignity in being broke and not being able to provide for your family. PERIOD. SO he did what he felt like he had to do. I don’t agree with it, but none of us are in his position to truly understand his life back then and judge him. He appears to be working very hard to transition to a normal life, but if it’s no support or path to it…what do you expect? If you treat someone like an animal, he will become an animal. Burroughston, you sound extrememly self-righteous and unforgiving. I assume you’ve NEVER done anything in your youth that you wouldn’t want to be judged on today. This is a dude that did something that MANY other people probably did and they didn’t get caught. Not only did they not get caught, but they likely went on to be law-abiding citizens… and maybe even pillars of their community. He has that potential and I confident he likely wants that opportunity too.

          • Burroughston Broch says:

            Jay, we seem to be reading different posts. This person is now 37 years old. He (I’ll assume he is male) was convicted of his first felony before he was 18 and of several others between 18 and 27. I would be more understanding if he had made one misstep at 18 and never strayed again. That’s not the case. He has made multiple bad decisions, and there is no guarantee that he won’t make another.
            Plus, he fathered a child that he cannot now support. He knew his employment situation before he fathered the child, but went ahead.
            If he thinks that things would be better for him elsewhere, then he is free to move unless he is still on probation.
            I am judgmental and make no apologies for it. I have never contemplated or committed a felony. I conduct my life by society’s rules and expect others to do the same. I have no sympathy for people who try to game the system.

          • Jay Varges says:

            Burroughton, I applaused you on being disclipined, focused, logical, and a law-abiding citizen for your WHOLE life. But this has shielded you from the other side of life and made you closed minded and rigid. Imagine this; due to the lack of proper guidance, you made a silly mistake in your youth. You did your time. You have NO desire to do wrong. But because of a lack of financial resources due to you being “branded”, you start making decisions out of desperation just to survive. Bad decisions to fix a temporary problems. I don’t care how great of an example you can be today, but if all your options to make a decent amount of money dried up, it will turn YOU into someone you don’t even recognize. It would bring out the worst in you. This guy has been in survival mode ALL his life! You have no clue what that feels like. That’s why you have no empathy. He doesn’t want sympathy, he just want people to open their minds and understand that the way the laws are written now, it is impossible to shift effectively to a better life without giving up the very thing that make all of us feel like a man! Being able to provide for your family..go on vacations..put your kids in better schools..etc. This guy doesn’t beat women. He is not an rapist, or a murderer. He is a man that made one mistake out of stupidity, and the rest due to the fact he’s legally discrimistrated against for the rest of his life. His situation is very similar to when the black slaves where freed after civil war. They were no options for them to make a living. They ended up going back to their master and made a deal to work the land in exchange for their neccesities. This is what our “master” (governement) should do for men/women in this situation. Not welfare, but some sort of program where he can get on with a mainstream life again. Better yet, instead of running the debt up with new programs, how ’bout they just provide a fair path back to a normal (non-discriminated against) life. Being punished for the REST of you life, AFTER you have completed your time is overkill! DO you not agree?

  6. randall cole says:

    My name is Randall Cole. I am the Author of Felonies Before Birth… The United States has some hidden history, which no one likes to talk about…. Back in 1712 on the shores of the James River in the colony of Virginia a guy named Willie Lynch was invited to the colony of Virginia to teach his methods to want to be slave owners.. The term lynching derived from his last name…The speech he was invited to give was, The Making Of A Slave….Black men and prisons has more to them than you even know…. Read Felonies Before Birth by randall cole… Here is the synopsis: I was born into the sins of the United States under an evil plan to destroy my life; felonies before birth. My Government name is Randall Cole and my street name in Oakland was Coletrain. I discovered that the school system had failed me because I couldn’t spell 18 words at the age of 18. I have written my life story down and if you like action, drama, drugs, pimps, hoes and CB radios or the Devil, evil spirits, darkness and prisons, this is for you. Read about blessings, angels, cures, death, transformation, light, protection and God’s power, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and more. Take a ride on the Coletrain and let me take you on a journey through Felonies Before Birth, you will never be the same

  7. “Yes. A felony is for life.” The answer is, it depends where you live. The FCRA now states you can go back indefinately, but state laws still supersede when performing background checks. Example, in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, just to name a few, cannot report anything older than 7 years. That’s why so many background checks only verify the last 7 years. That doesn’t mean they won’t, but you can sue and file a complaint if they violate the laws. Some people should just not answer if they don’t know what they’re talking about. Texas and Colorado are not states that should be in that example. They both have no restrictions and can, and do, go all the way back. Also, even in California, if they do a national search, because someone hasn’t lived in California for 7-10 years, it will come up then too. Untrue information on this site, and all question and answer websites, is rampant. Know it all (know nothing) people answer these questions like they know what they’re talking about all the time. This guy might have gotten someone to move to Texas, thinking they could find a job easier. Texas is the most strict state in the country! Don’t listen to people on these sites. Not even me. Ask a lawyer. The problem is, they probably won’t know either, because they don’t care because it’s useless information to them. There’s no reason for them to research it.

  8. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ Jay Varges
    You have a problem with truth, and deliberately misrepresent it to bolster your argument. I wrote that I have never contemplated or committed a felony, not the gross exaggeration you wrote in your first sentence. Quit trying to put words into my mouth.

    You then wrote, “This guy doesn’t beat women. He is not an rapist, or a murderer. He is a man that made one mistake out of stupidity…” Let me correct you:
    1. You don’t know whether he beats women or not. He doesn’t address it.
    2. You don’t know if he’s a rapist or a murderer. He doesn’t address it.
    3. You do know the man is a multiple, repeat felon. He was convicted the first time at age 18 or so, and the last time at age 28. He was convicted additional times in between – “I continued to get into a little trouble here and there with white-collar stuff.” Every felony was a conscious choice.

    You can continue to be conned if you wish. But don’t presume to lecture me about empathy or pull out the race card.

    • In fact, all of us who presume to make judgments, positive or negative, about this man based on what he wrote are just guessing. He does not give us the facts of his particular case(s) because his point is not to gain anyone’s pity. He is making the point that there are few roads back into society for those exiting the prison system. One point of view is the ” tough luck, he made his own bed, let him lay in it” perspective. Another is the idea that the transition from prison to a productive life is difficult enough, and that society does very little at this time to make it any easier. The first point of view basically breeds more criminal behavior, even generationally, as the children of a felon (who, by the way, didn’t “choose” to be born into their situation) will very likely face the same limited options as their father. The more practical approach to me is to provide support for the transition in the hopes that we can reduce the number of people we support through the prison system and increase the number of productive citizens who can support themselves and their families. It makes financial sense, and builds a safer, stronger society. Let’s step back from speculating about this one individual, and look at the big picture of how we can make our criminal justice system more effective. Right now, it is a money pit that drains our resources, both financial and human.

      • Burroughston Broch says:

        Mary, how far are you willing to support this person’s transition?
        What limitations do you consider reasonable?
        What would you consider reasonable if this person were a convicted murderer?

        • Transitional housing, job training, mentoring, advocating, especially in the area of matching former offenders with employers willing to give them a chance. Even in the most menial jobs, employers see the “yes” answer to the “have you ever been convicted…” question and toss that application to the bottom of the pile. Rental property applications are denied, so ex-offenders are forced to live in crime-ridden neighborhoods where the temptations are in their face all the time. Ex-offenders need the support of someone running interference for them, convincing employers to take a chance on them, and they need someone doggin’ them for awhile as they develop a work ethic and the ability to negotiate the workplace. Remember, they walk out of prison with nothing, and it is hard to get a job if you don’t have a car or even money for a bus. The cards are totally stacked against them. Will some people fail in a program like this? Of course. Those without the backbone to move forward on their own once you’ve let go of their hand. But there are many who are capable if given half a chance. And, by the way, the recidivism rate for convicted murderers is lower than that for any other crime so, yes, I would include them.

  9. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ Mary P
    You are a trusting soul, much more than most of us. Not many people would be comfortable with this.
    What are you going to do with the ones who fail?

    • Sadly, the ones who fail probably end up back in prison. Yes, I am a trusting soul, but not a naive or unrealistic person. If given reasonable options, some people will persist in doing the wrong thing, but with a little direction and support, some will get back on their feet. I don’t believe in wasting human potential by focusing on punishment as opposed to rehabilitation. Punishment without support seldom results in positive change in a human being, and efficacious human beings are what we need to in our society, not hopeless throwaways.