Yesterday I met with a woman who is looking for a job after incarceration. She explained to me that she was arrested for assaulting her husband who was abusing her. She served three years in prison for defending herself when she could no longer take the regular beatings. I asked her if she had a record of the abuse with the local police department. She said, “No, I was always afraid to call the police.” Now she is in her transition from incarceration to reintegration.
According to what she told me, she can’t find a job because she has a criminal background. She was articulate, smart and seemingly driven. Several job applications that she completed asked her the question about her criminal background. She is in the process of filing grievances against these companies because Washington, DC law prohibits private and local government employers from asking about a criminal background prior to a conditional job offer.
This legislation is called Ban the Box. It was implemented to allow formerly incarcerated individuals an opportunity to complete an application, participate in an interview and have their background assessed in the context of the job being advertised and the individual’s skill set.
In the past, convicted felons either avoided the question about criminal background, or they outright lied. A friend of mine recently told me that he is tired of running from his background. “I just want to work in a field where I can tell the truth,” he said.
He makes a pretty penny working behind the scenes in the television industry after turning his life around and obtaining his Master’s Degree in Communications and Broadcasting. He has turned down certain job opportunities because he was convinced that he would not pass the background check that would clear him to go into high-level security buildings and work as part of a camera crew.
“Having a criminal background is like being on the run,” he said. If you have ever known anyone who is running from the law in an effort to escape the wrath of the criminal justice system when they are accused of committing a crime, you understand the magnitude of his statement. Being on the run is one of the most severe stressors an individual can experience. A person on the run never really feels as if he/she can settle down. They are constantly looking over their shoulders. They are always nervous and paranoid.
If formerly incarcerated people who have paid their debt to society still feel like they are on the run, there is a serious flaw in our thinking and there are serious flaws in our system, or so it seems.