Thursday, October 28, 2010

Behind the Employment Mask

What is behind the mask of the employment world? I have been thinking about this question for quite a while. I attended the monthly Louisville Metro Re-Entry Task Force Meeting again yesterday and we were discussing how to get more employers involved in hiring ex-offenders.  The discussion was formed around why is it so difficult to help an ex-offender who is trying to rehabilitate but society keeps them down. I have come up with some ideas on why I think that is.

  1. Bias about the offender has to be the number one spot. When most people hear ex-offender they think the worst crime has been committed. They think all ex-offenders are murders, rapists, child molesters and others. It was asked in a class of local social work students if they would “want an ex-offender to move in next to them”. 2 individuals raised their hand because they did not have a problem with it. 1. Was doing an internship with a program that helps ex-offenders and the other was an ex-offender. It surprises me that in the social work field there was that bias. I am not expecting that the ex-offenders I help will be taking the jobs from the non-ex-offenders who are also struggling in communities all around America, but most of those are not looking for warehouse, landscaping, forklift, or janitorial jobs. If we want to help individuals return to society and not return to jail then we must provide some kind of hope for them.
  2. Fear is most likely the second attribute that keeps individuals returning to jail due to not being able to gain work. I have worked with individuals who grew up in abusive homes and homes that selling drugs was almost demanded to keep a roof over their heads, and food on the table. There are a number of individuals who don’t just wake up one day when they are 8 and say “I think I want to be a drug dealer”.  That does not happen, but often times the fear and bias of an individual who is going to do anything to survive that is what their life turns into.  The individuals I work with will tell you, it is not a glamorous life like portrayed on Television, there is a lot of fear, looking over their shoulders all the time, no health benefits.  It is strange that businesses who say they are equal opportunity employers fail to see this. There have been numerous news reports past and present that talk about the church secretary who steals from the books, the CEO of a company who has been skimming off the top for years, Martha Stewart, need I say more.
  3. Thought patterns of the ex-offender also come into play.  There seems to be this idea that if an ex-offender is hired at a place of business that they will commit some crime there. In all reality the ex-offender knows what they have to lose and do not really want to return to jail, it is the individuals at the place of employment who are committing the crimes but have not been caught …Yet… Someone who has been to jail really does not want to return, but it seems society has made it even more difficult for someone who made a grave error in judgment, usually because of drug addiction yes, but given the right to get treatment while incarcerated would help. I challenge any who read this to think about one question. “Have you ever made a mistake?  I am sure the answer is yes. Were you given the opportunity to make that mistake or error in judgment right? Were you forgiven?  Now think if that mistake followed you for the rest of your life and you were shunned because of it, not given a chance to find a job to take care of your family.  Would you do whatever it took to make sure your family survives and has a place to sleep and food to eat?
  4. Discrimination has to be thrown in here. It seems to be an idea that color plays a major part in this. If the white CEO is caught stealing then a trial is given and the public takes sides on deciding the guilt and punishment, usually sending him to Club Jail with golf courses. If a black male is forced to sell drugs to put food in his children’s mouth, then it seems the book is thrown at him. The difference they are both ex-offenders when they get out but which one do you think will have the best chance of gaining employment?

I am not saying that those who commit crimes should not be punished, but once they have paid their debt to society, why must they continue to keep being punished. I heard one person yesterday saying that a national campaign should be started with the idea stating “If you do not want your stuff stolen, then hire and ex-offender so they do not return to the life they had, then return to jail. It costs a lot of tax money to keep placing individuals back in jail. There are tax benefits for hiring ex-offenders, but even that does not seems to help.

Now, back to the question given to the social work students. I bet there are already ex-offenders living in your neighborhood, you just do not know them, or you might know them just not know what they did. Remember crime goes from the ghetto to the upper class neighborhood.

  Last Question for you. “If this were you, how would you want to be treated”?

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