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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Exploding U.S. Prison Population - Who is to blame?

I frequently read statistics that report the number of people in U.S. prisons.  Recent Department of Justice statistics report that the population of prisoners in federal and state prisons and local jails is a little over 2.3 million.  Even more frequently, I read how the United States has the largest prison population, and the greatest number of persons incarcerated per capita than any other civilized nation.  In-fact, the U.S. prison population exceeds the combined prison populations of several other nations.

Blame for the U.S. prison population seems to include the failed war on drugs, elected judges running on a “tough on crime” platform that forces them to give out harsher sentences, mandatory sentencing guidelines, recidivism resulting from the corrections systems’ failure to prepare people for release, the prison industrial complex, allegations of racism because of the disproportionate racial composition of incarcerated persons, and other similar influences.  No one discounts these as contributing factors to our expanding prison population.

The statistics are probably fairly accurate.  Compiling statistics is valuable for determining trends and whether the solutions implemented to resolve a problem are achieving their desired objectives. However, recording or citing statistics does nothing to identify the core cause of the problem, or for discovering solutions that directly resolve the problem.  

Given the fact that the prison population continues to increase disproportionately in relation to the population of the nation, we might conclude that the core problem is still elusive, and despite the efforts and capital being spent on our corrections system, the numbers suggest that we are funding symptoms as opposed to resolving core problems.

Many people might conclude that the corrections system is to blame, particularly for the high rate of recidivism.  I might argue that we are blaming the messenger, since it is the Justice Department and the corrections system that are reporting the statistics. Perhaps more importantly, we tend to place blame on whoever had last possession in the chain of custody.

Some career professionals working within the DOJ and corrections system suggest that the blame lies with our failed education system.  

If our education system is such a failure, how do we explain the tens-of-thousands of kids each year who graduate from public schools and are accepted into colleges and universities that have substantially high entrance standards?  Albeit there is always room for improvement, calling our public education system a failure is a red hearing with regard to this discussion.

It is impossible to solve a problem by treating symptoms.  Yet, when a problem arises, it is the symptoms, not the problem, that jumps out and slaps us in the face.

I would propose that the core problem that continues to exacerbate our expanding prison population is not a failed corrections or education system, or mandatory sentencing guidelines, the war on drugs, or racism.

The core problem is constitutional and the misinterpretation or adjudication of the Constitution and Bill of Rights by our legislature and judiciary, in many respects yielding to the pressure of the liberal left.

As a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I subscribe to many of the fundamentals of the liberal left. However, I have also concluded that the very people who shout the loudest about our expanding prison population may have contributed to its cause.

During a trip a several years ago to New York City, I visited the observation deck of the Empire State Building.  I found it interesting that there are fences surrounding the observation area with the top two feet of the fence leaning inward.  My suspicions were confirmed by the individual working at the facility- the barrier is to prevent people from jumping off of the building - anti-suicide fencing.  I had noticed similar fencing at observation areas in the Grand Canyon and various other scenic areas around the county.  Evidently, our government has determined that making suicide unlawful is not enough - it has erected mechanisms to help prevent violations of that law.

Over the past several of decades, there has been public debate regarding a person’s right to end their life, most notably with regard to doctor-assisted suicide for which Dr. Jack Kevorkian had sacrificed himself as the ambassador for the crusade.

Do you have the constitutional right to jump off a cliff and end your life?  Again, the question is clearly a debate that continues - with both sides providing zealous and coherent arguments.  What is clear, and there is likely consensus, is that you do not have the constitutional right to jump off the Empire State Building into a crowded street below.  Irrespective of your arguable right to end your life, you clearly do not have the right to endanger other people in the exercise of your rights - hence the reason for the laws banning suicide, and the fences.

Our laws and regulations, and the mechanisms invoked or erected to enforce various laws theoretically may infringe upon an individual’s rights, but are weighed against the potential violation of the rights of others.

There is one more component to briefly discuss before summarizing my conclusions from this brief discussion.

All mammals share the reptilian-level instincts to acquire the fundamental things they need for survival, which include food, shelter, and security, and reproduction of the species.  

Most mammals are born with the tools they require to hunt for food, build their shelters, and provide for their security.  They practice using their tools and instincts during adolescence while still under the umbrella of a teaching parent.  For example, if we look at lions, tigers and bears, their fundamental tools are claws and teeth, along with a certain level of intellect.

If we examine the human mammal, we are also endowed with instincts that are similar to our mammal cousins, and the same fundamental needs for food, shelter, security and reproduction.

Many mammals, including humans, are instinctively social, and form communities and societal structures within which there are rules and hierarchies.  We humans have evolved a societal structure that we commonly refer to as civilized society.  All societal groups work to serve their respective needs, utilizing the tools that they have available.

The needs and desires of lions, tigers and bears are satisfied with the tools they have - teeth and claws.  It would be an aberration for any of them to develop extraordinary needs or desires that would require tools beyond that which they have, or the skills that they acquire with experience.

However, we humans seem to develop additional needs and desires that extend far beyond our fundamental survival requirements.  We live in a society that promotes instant gratification, and in a capitalistic culture that survives and expands by creating a need that previously did not exist.  Our needs have evolved to include the need for a new iPhone, expensive clothing and accessories, or a new Cadillac Escalade.

Corresponding to the teeth and claws that are the primitive tools of our mammal cousins are guns and knives, which by analogy are equally primitive when compared to other tools available to achieve substantially the same objectives.

Among our many gifts as humans is our almost limitless ability to learn.  We have the unique ability to add tools to our tool chest through the process of education and experience.  Education is what separates us from our Neanderthal ancestors and from all of our mammal cousins.

Education provides us with the many tools necessary to navigate our societal structure and achieve the fulfillment of the innumerous extraordinary needs and desires we have developed as a species and as a culture.

Without the additional tools that are the by-product of education, we still have the desires for the iPhone, the Cadillac and a plethora of other products.  However, without the tools that we acquire through education, we are left with a struggle to fulfill these needs and desires by utilizing the only tools we have - teeth and claws - guns and knives, or other primitive or nefarious mechanisms.

Education is available from a variety of sources.  We can refer to the public and private education system in the United States as a formal education.  However, an individual can also acquire an education on the streets and in prison.  In either scenario, the fundamental purpose of education is to increase an individual’s collection of tools - the tools that they utilize for acquiring their needs and fulfilling their desires.

I believe that it is reasonable to conclude that a formal education is more beneficial to the welfare of the individual and to society as a whole.  Our society and world economy have become extraordinarily competitive environments.  Navigating our civilized society using socially acceptable methods requires a bare minimum of a high school education.  Further, some people argue that because our culture has become so technically advanced, it might be time to consider increasing a minimum high school education from 12 to 14 years.

All states have compulsory-attendance laws. However, the truancy departments charged with enforcement of these laws are frequently under-staffed and over-worked.  

Students cannot drop out of school until they turn 16 in most states and 18 in a few.  A few states have imposed penalties that include driver’s license revocation for minors who drop out, and they can also impose sanctions on the families of those students such as reduced welfare benefits.  Despite these penalties, these consequences have had a negligible effect on dropout rates.  The laws have been ineffective, and some civil liberty advocates suggest that forcing an individual to complete high school is an infringement on their civil rights.

Where individuals do not have the mental capacity to make informed decisions and sound judgments for themselves, a guardian must make these decisions for them.  Persons incapable of exercising sound judgment would obviously include individuals who suffer a mental handicap.  Where a guardian is unavailable or is incapable of rendering assistance, the government steps in.  As a society, we do not allow people to jump off a cliff, and the very desire to do so suggests a mental impairment.

The axiom, “if I only knew then what I know now,” clarifies why our culture should not allow anyone the option of dropping out of high school.  From the standpoint of survival within our societal structure, allowing an individual to drop out of high school is not much different than allowing them to jump off a cliff.  Giving an individual the option to simply decline a basic education functionally deprives them of the tools that are essential and prerequisite to navigating our expanding and complex economy as necessary to satisfy their basic needs, or to provide any of the other comforts available within or culture.

An individual of sixteen years does not have the capacity or judgment to make a decision that, if made incorrectly, will have catastrophic consequences.  At that age, a person simply does not know what he or she does not know.  The civil liberties of these young and impressionable people are not being infringed because civilized society decides that people will not be permitted the option of wallowing through life suffering the consequences of illiteracy.

For the sake of debate, I will stipulate that perhaps it is a violation of an individual’s rights to force him or her to complete a high school education.  Such individuals will still have the basic needs for survival, and they will still develop the extraordinary desires for many of the comforts available within our culture. These under educated individuals will still want the iPhone and Cadillac Escalade, and they will utilize the only tools they have to acquire it - teeth & claws / guns & knives.  Under this scenario, the individual is not jumping off of the cliff at the Grand Canyon to an empty gorge, but rather they are jumping off of the Empire State Building into a rush-hour crowd of people.  Many of the people below are going to suffer the consequences of an individual’s poor judgment, by a person whom those innocent and injured people had never even met.

The plethora of individuals whose rights are infringed because a person elects to drop out of high school is substantial.  Everyone else pays for the social programs to support these individuals.  In an increasing number of instances, we all pay for their incarceration in a prison system that places severe economic strains on many state budgets, not to mention the incalculable cost to victims.

Depending upon where an individual attends high school, the dropout rate ranges from 21% - 50% according to statistics released by the state departments of education.

Sentencing laws, record numbers of drug offenders and high crime rates have been contributing factors to the expanding prison population in the United States. These are some factors that play a role regarding the United States having the largest prison population in the World.  These factors are only symptoms of an underlying systemic problem that, if it continues unresolved, will eventually cause a pivotal shift in our entire culture.

Drugs are sold and consumed predominantly by individuals who have no other tools to exploit to acquire their needs and fulfill their desires. Consumers of drugs frequently lack the tools to acquire the money necessary to maintain their habit, which accounts for a great deal of our nation’s increasing crime rates.

Irrespective of drug-related crimes, with dropout rates hitting 50% in some areas, simple arithmetic projects that within a generation or two, our nation will have jumped off of a cliff.

Neither our corrections nor our education systems are to blame for our nation’s robust prison population. The corrections system is doing the best it can with what it has to work with - 2.3 million people, of whom a substantial majority are functionally illiterate when measured against the literacy standards necessary to operate within the guidelines of our civilized society.

A high school education must be as mandatory as any of our most important and enforced public policies and laws.  Completion of a high school education must be demonstrated through a series of tests, not just because an individual has demonstrated the endurance to make it to the 12th grade.

The United States is becoming an increasingly illiterate culture when compared to just a couple of generations ago.  And, with high school dropout rates hitting 50%, it is only going to get worse.

Arguably, responsibility lies with parents.  However, when illiteracy is second, third and fourth generation, it is unreasonable to entrust the parents with the responsibility of ensuring their child’s education.

If not the parents, then who is going to accept responsibility to ensure that the current and subsequent generations of the nation’s children receive adequate education and tools to navigate a lifestyle in civilized society - orphanages or more social services?  

The cost to society to support an uneducated individual is far greater than any of the alternative options to ensure that all children become educated.

The solutions to the prison population, which will only continue to grow, can only come to fruition through public debate, followed by conclusions and difficult decisions in our legislature and judiciary.

Recidivism is not the problem.  Recidivism is a symptom.  The problems that contribute to crime and recidivism are much deeper.  Education and family structure have deteriorated substantially during my generation, and I would argue that these issues are at the very core.

The prison and correction systems need to stop tripping over themselves to buy the latest and greatest repackaged dysfunctional symptom-treating programs that contributed to the seventy percent recidivism rate, and start having a conversation that clearly identifies the underlying problems.

Our nation desperately needs to get back to basics and unconditionally require that every person achieve the minimum level of education necessary to navigate a dynamic civilized society.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Getting out of prison is easy. The challenge is staying out.

The first consideration an individual must contemplate when facing community re-entry after incarceration is whether or not he or she genuinely wants a different path in life.  

Changing your life path requires work, dedication and sacrifice.  If an individual is unwilling to put forth the effort and work that is necessary to change his or her life path, then that person will probably find the exercise of trying very frustrating.  

People who do not genuinely want to embrace a new life path, but feel some obligation to demonstrate that they are trying in an effort to appease the expectations of a spouse, family member, or parole officer, will arguably expend a great deal of energy manufacturing a plethora of excuses as to why the barriers to re-entry cannot be overcome.  The myriad of tortured excuses provides a convenient rationalization for an individual to not try very hard toward life path change, and it justifies why he or she is in life where he or she is – a sort of victim, that has somehow been singled out and persecuted, at least in his or her own mind.

If you’re happy with the path that you’re on and it is producing the results that you want for your life, then accept your future as being the result of your efforts.  However, if you are an individual who genuinely wants a new life path, but you wonder if putting forth the work and effort would just be an exercise in futility, worry no more.  

Hundreds of thousands of people who were released from prison and successfully re-entered mainstream society speak from experience.  If you put forth the genuine work, sacrifice and effort, you can succeed.  

Everyone seems to focus on the recidivism rates that statistically range from 65% to 70%.  Put another way, 30% to 35% never go back to prison because they make a successful reentry into mainstream society.  That percentage represents hundreds of thousands of people.

Successful community re-entry is largely dependent upon economics.  Living in civilized society requires money, and among the socially acceptable methods of acquiring money is through gainful employment that is expected to provide a steady income stream.

There are many important elements that we must consider when seeking employment.  We must seek employment opportunities for which we are qualified – not in our assessment, but rather, qualified in the employer’s judgment.  There are numerous aspects of our education, experience, character and persona that contribute to an employer’s assessment of our overall qualification for a particular position.

A single boilerplate resume sent to employers in disparate industries for a multitude of different positions is probably not very effective.  When an employer is recruiting to fill a particular position, that employer wants to locate an individual who appeals to the particulars of that position.  Your resume needs to be tailored by industry and position.  A successful employment search will likely require eight or ten variations of your resume, each customized to exploit those elements of your specific qualifications that appeal to the particulars and requirements of each opportunity.

In this day of the Internet and instant communication, many people have this delusion that filling out a couple of applications on the Internet, or sending in a few resumes via e-mail each day qualifies as a sincere job search.  It doesn’t.  A genuine job search requires a good deal more dedication.

Seeking employment, particularly in an economy where there are more people than jobs, requires a plan.  Don’t be discouraged though – there may be more people than there are jobs, but there are definitely more jobs than there are people with a plan to find a job.  

If a person takes the time to create a genuine employment acquisition plan, he or she absolutely will locate gainful employment.  On the other hand, if an individual is unwilling to put forth the effort to create an employment acquisition plan, then he or she can expect results that amount to little more than frustration.  Even worse, some people convince themselves that the limited results they realize from their lackadaisical search for employment provides them a convenient excuse that no one will hire them because of their background – suggesting that a felony conviction is some kind of total disability.  It isn’t a disability, but is does present some unique challenges – none that cannot be conquered if an individual is willing to press forward and not give up and quit.

Decide which industries and positions are of interest to you.  Begin with perhaps six industries and positions, and tailor resumes to each of those six positions.  Emphasize your education, experience, and how your personality is best suited for the particulars of each specific position.  When an employer reads your resume, you want them to see a match of your qualifications that fulfills the employer’s needs – not just another person seeking a paycheck.

The preceding is probably decent and fundamental guidance for the majority of people seeking gainful employment.   However, the individual who was recently released from jail or prison faces a unique set of challenges.  The fundamentals mentioned above are still important, but there are a number of other considerations for someone who carries a felony record.

As previously mentioned, the first consideration is: do you really want to change your life path?  Do you really want to become a member of mainstream society?  If you genuinely want to take a new life-path, then this process will not be a frustrating and painful drudgery. Rather, it will simply present interesting challenges that you can and will conquer.  A felony conviction or incarceration event does trigger some collateral damages, but a felony background is not a barrier to achieving a successful new life path. 

Many people who are released from prison are fundamentally brainwashed to believe that becoming a card-carrying member of mainstream society is an almost impossible mission.  That is a fallacy that is frequently proliferated by those who have been in, got out, and then came back – the recidivists.  Why would you even listen to an oratory regarding the challenges of community re-entry from someone who failed at re-entry?  That would be analogous to taking financial planning counseling from someone who just filed a personal bankruptcy.

If you have the desire to take a new life-path, then the fulfillment of your desire is going to require change – a kind of self-reinvention.  Change is difficult, especially after an individual is released from prison.  All of the temptations and all of the old friends are readily available when an individual is released.  In some respects, it is harder to get out then it is to be in, but not because of the “barriers” to re-entry.  The re-entry “barriers” are arguably overrated propaganda perpetuated by recidivists.  

Whether you have been an inmate in a prison, work in a prison, or work in the community re-entry profession, chances are that some of the people who have influenced your assessment regarding the insurmountable re-entry challenges are people who got out of prison and then returned – offering a laundry list of tortured excuses as to why the felony conviction prevented them from reentering mainstream society.  

With a recidivism rate of roughly 65%, that means that thirty-five percent of individuals who got out never came back.  Very, very few individuals in prison or individuals working in prisons or re-entry have had a comprehensive dialog with those individuals who got out, genuinely reentered mainstream society, and stayed out.  

“Genuinely re-entering mainstream society” is an important distinction.  Individuals who are released from prison and recidivate are not qualified to engage in a “how to make a successful community re-entry” dialog.  The veracity and effectiveness of those who are released and immediately find employment in an organization that is offering some kind of ex-offender re-entry assistance or counseling is questionable, or those who start a community re-entry non-profit organization right out of prison.  They have not done what all of their constituents are expected to do – re-enter mainstream society and locate a regular mainstream job. 

If the lifestyle of mainstream society is what you really want, stop listening to people who talk about successful community re-entry when they have no actual life experience, and start listening to that 35% who have succeeded at genuine re-entry into mainstream society.  If a new life as a member of mainstream society is genuinely what you want, you absolutely can have it.

It seems that is always someone else’s fault when someone recidivates, if you listen to the excuses some people offer when they return to prison.  The police were targeting them, their parole officer had it out for them, the judge had a burr, etc.  This group of recidivists refuses to accept personal accountability for their actions, and they justify themselves to everyone else by placing blame on everyone but he who stares back in the mirror.  If you are one of these individuals, you either don’t genuinely want to be a member of mainstream society, which is completely respectable, or you are making excuses.  If you are the latter, when you are alone and making an honest assessment, you know that all you are doing is making excuses to justify not doing the work and making the sacrifices necessary to engage yourself in mainstream society.  

If a person wants to become a card-carrying member of mainstream society, it is simply a choice.  The person who has made that choice to successfully re-enter mainstream society will do it with or without any assistance.  No one is saying that it is easy or a cakewalk.  It’s hard.  Life is hard.  Conversely, if a person has not made the conscious choice, then there is no amount of assistance that will cause them to successfully re-enter mainstream society.   Change begins with desire, and no one can trigger that desire except the subject individual.  An individual can be respected regardless of the choice he or she makes.  But, for your sake, just make a choice to either become a member of mainstream society or make a choice not to.  You will save yourself a lot of frustration.  And, if you don’t make either choice, the default is that you probably will not succeed at re-entry into mainstream society.

Some people seem to think that they can continue to play games on the side while functionally faking re-entry.  Re-entering mainstream society is not something about which you can be lukewarm.  Either decide to re-enter mainstream, or decide not to re-enter.  Make your choice and go with it.  But also realize that the benefits or consequences of your choice are the results of your choice.  

If you “sort-of” try to re-enter, you’re probably not going to be very successful, and the process will likely be frustrating.  Conversely, if you genuinely make the commitment, your likelihood of success is just about guaranteed.  Several hundred thousand other people are absolute proof that if a person makes the genuine commitment to legitimacy, they can have a healthy life of normalcy, and the rewards will be representative of the effort they put forth.

Many of the people who fail at re-entry are unsuccessful because of their own impatience.  Some people want instant gratification and are unwilling to do the work to get the prize.  No matter what you want out of life, or who you want to become, there is work to be done, and that holds true whether you are starting on even ground or from the bottom of the barrel.  Additionally, as you embark upon climbing your mountain, each new step generally has prerequisites.  You are not going to become a medical doctor without first taking a few courses in biology and chemistry.

Mainstream society incorporates a phenomenally wide field of endeavors.  An individual can chose from literally thousands of different professional directions.  There are some professions that may be limited because of a felony conviction.  A few limitations from among thousands of possible career directions are not barriers to re-entry.  

Get beyond the propaganda of re-entry and understand that the greatest barriers to re-entry are those that we create ourselves – not some concrete prejudice against formerly incarcerated individuals.  Don’t listen to the diatribes and excuses of those who have failed at re-entry and attempt to rationalize their demise with long-winded oratories about how a felony conviction prevented them from having any life in mainstream society.  

That isn’t to say that there aren’t some unique challenges associated with having a felony conviction.   There are, but none that will prevent a determined individual from achieving the life that they want.

One major consequence of a felony conviction is the loss of credibility, regardless of the nature of the conviction.  Even after you have served your sentence, completed your parole and made complete restitution, you functionally have zero credibility as a result of a felony conviction and/or having served time in prison, unless you have taken deliberate steps to repair your integrity.  

The vast majority of people are going to have a very natural skepticism of you, and they are going to have a low level of trust for you.  Anyone who has conquered this challenge knows this truth because they have lived this.  No, this is not double jeopardy, and it does not create some tortured argument for being a victim of employment discrimination.  It is just the way it is.  People are not going to risk their own jobs and personal security to take a risk on someone they don’t know from Adam, and whose most recent significant event in their life history was some kind of criminal behavior.  

Anyone who hypothesizes that an employer’s assessment of an applicant that is based upon the applicants history is unconstitutional or some form of discrimination is arguably pursuing such a crusade to rationalize the fact that they are unwilling to put forth the effort, sacrifice and hard work necessary to change, where after they would then judged on a more positive set of criteria.  

Indeed, felons can sit around sucking their thumbs because the conviction creates collateral damage and additional challenges, or they can suck-it-up, face and conquer those challenges, and move their lives forward.  

The credibility and trust issue very definitely can be changed.  But, it is not going to change by trying to change the perceptions of society, fighting for change in employment discrimination laws, or fabricating some tortured interpretation of the Constitution.  Your credibility and trustworthiness will change as a result of the changes you make in yourself.  Take responsibility for yourself and your actions, and you will begin the process of re-establishing your credibility.

Whether a person is a recently released ex-felon or a recent graduate from a university, people judge us based upon our last act.  Right or wrong, you will be judged based upon your most recent significant event in your life, no matter who you are.  

What events comprise the last chapter of your life?  If the last chapter of your life was committing a crime, being convicted, and spending time in prison or under supervision, then those are your most recent significant events upon which people will pass judgment.  Conversely, if the last chapter of your life incorporates maintaining a job, demonstrating that you are accountable, reliable, dependable and trustworthy, then you will be judged heavily upon those attributes, even if you have less flattering previous events in your past.  The key here is that you can change your most recent significant event – you can create a new last chapter in your life.  Once you do this, you will have greater opportunity.  

A major component to making a successful re-entry and in achieving and maintaining a rewarding mainstream lifestyle is remaining focused on the long-term objective as opposed to only thinking about where you are in life today.  It isn’t important what your first job is when you are released from prison, or whether or not you enjoy it.  All that is important, and the primary objective of that first job, is simply to create a new most recent significant event in your life, and to write that new last chapter in your life to help dilute the previous chapter.  You only need to create a new chapter where you demonstrate accountability, reliability, dependability and trustworthiness once.  Just do this one time, and you will find and seize new and greater opportunities and rewards.  

After you achieve a new most recent significant event in your life, you then work toward achieving another new most recent significant event, which supersedes the prior one.  Eventually, you will find that you have created dozens of positive new chapters in your life.  Each of the new chapters dilutes those old chapters regarding your convictions.  Eventually those old chapters are so diluted with positive progress that they become substantially insignificant dust in the wind.  

A major key to creating these new most recent significant events is patience.  It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be a cakewalk.  It will take dedication, time and perseverance.  It will be hard and it will require work.  However, the same is true for anyone who achieves anything significant in his or her life.  You only need to ask yourself if a legitimate lifestyle in mainstream society and all of the rich rewards it offers is something that you want, and if you are willing to put forth the effort and work to achieve it.  But, don’t say you can’t have it because of a felony or prison background.  That just simply is not true, and the evidence is the hundreds of thousands of people who comprise that 35% of individuals released from prison who never return as recidivists.

There is a public perception regarding a convicted felon.   Whether it is right or wrong, the general public has a tendency to paint all felons with a single brush.  Given that the increase in prison population tracks the increase in illiteracy and high school dropout rate, this comes as no surprise.  Candidly, mainstream society is sick and tired of having to live behind an ever-increasing number of locks, bars, and security systems that protect their physical property and other intangibles such as their identity and credit.  

Society’s tolerance for felons has become thinner.  You need to accept the fact that people who have a felony conviction are simply going be held to a higher standard.  You can either rise to the occasion, or you can just roll over and wet yourself, spending the rest of your life sucking your thumb, claiming that you are a victim of prejudice or discrimination.  Let’s all keep in mind that it was an individual’s own behavior that earned them a conviction.  So, rise to the occasion.  Records are broken by those who dream beyond the barriers.

Some people suggest that they will spend their life attempting to change the public’s perception regarding convicted felons.  Arguably, anyone who purports to dedicate their existence to such a crusade is using the public perception and their crusade to change it as an excuse not to put forth the effort to achieve a mainstream lifestyle.  None of us are going to change society or its perceptions to suit our particular needs.  The path of least resistance would be to change ourselves, not society.  The individual who has a criminal record is going to be held to a higher standard.  That individual must reinvent him or her self. 

Many individuals scrutinize their first job offer after release from prison based upon their age, experience and education.  People sometimes compare where they are in life with where other people of the same age are situated.  Using age to compare where two people are situated in life is not a valid barometer.  If you are 35 – 40-plus years old and still haven’t completed high school or the GED, then you simply have not done your part.   Furthermore, it really doesn’t matter how qualified you believe you are, how many college degrees you have or how much experience you have accumulated throughout your life.  If you were recently released from prison or recently convicted of a felony, then nothing previous to your incarceration or conviction matters for the immediate future.  It will later, but right now, it doesn’t.  All an employer is going to look at is your most recent significant event, irrespective of whether or not you have other stellar credentials.  

When an individual is first released from prison, in reality, they don’t need a job – they need a break.  If that is you, then you need to find a situation where someone can offer you an opportunity without their taking a risk.  In short, you need to look for a job that no one else wants.  If you’re looking for a job that is advertised, you have hundreds if not thousands of competitors applying for that same job.  When you are looking for a job that no one else wants, you have little or no competition.  

The fastest way to find a job that no one else wants is to canvass construction sites and industrial parks or areas.  Find a foreman and simply state the indisputable fact that you know he / she has a job on this site that people complain about every time it is assigned to them.  Simply state that that’s the job for which you are applying, that you’ll do a good job and you’ll never complain about it.  

Look, this first job is not forever, and it is not your career path.  It gives you an opportunity to get out into the workforce, interact with other people, and write that new life chapter – create that new most recent significant event to begin the process of diluting your unflattering history.  

If you approach five foremen with this proposition, on average, you will have three job offers.  If you don’t believe me, just do it to humor yourself.  But for certain, if you really want to embrace a new life path, this is a place to start.

As an employer myself, I have no problem hiring individuals right out of prison.  However, I am not going to take a risk and hire them into a position of trust whereby I could potentially have an exposure to loss.  But, I generally would not hire anyone directly into a position of trust where they are going to have the keys to the vault.  I can open a door.  What that individual does once they walk through that door is entirely up to him or her.  If they prove that they are trustworthy, accountable and dependable, and complete their assigned duties timely and accurately, then the probability of them receiving promotions and pay raises is excellent.

Don’t expect to be hired into a position of trust.  Whether you are trustworthy or not, if you were just released from prison, the perception is that your credibility is questionable.  Only you can change that perception by earning trust through behavior and the passage of time.  If you try to demand trust, it strains your credibility even further.  Just be patient and earn it by working to write that new most recent chapter in your life’s book.

An alternative option to finding a job is to consider self-employment.  This is a tough road to hoe, but it is a viable alternative.  More on that alternative in future posts.  

For now, work toward becoming a member of that 35% who never return to prison.  Take that job that no one else wants, and begin creating your new most recent significant event.

Records are broken by those who dream beyond the barriers.