“I had a struggle yesterday,” Rick begins. “I got laid off from work.”
Rick is a husband and a father. He considers himself a hard worker, intent on providing for his family.
“I do whatever the boss asks me,” he says. “I try to do everything right and be on time… And you think everything’s going to go great, and then the next thing you know, boom.”
In the end, it didn’t matter whether Rick was good at his job or loyal to the company, or even that he had a family dependent on him. His employer ran a background check on Rick and found his criminal record.
ROADBLOCKS ON THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW
Former prisoners face a difficult world outside of prison. Because of their past crimes, these returning citizens are often denied driver’s licenses, parental rights, educational opportunities, housing, and jobs.
These rules and regulations are called “collateral consequences.” Instead of finding a second chance outside prison walls, these men, women, and adolescents are ushered into a second prison.
“You see it on Facebook all the time,” Rick says. “‘Hey! Looking for a place to live. I’m a felon. Anybody got any suggestions, can you please help?’ I see it all the time. … [Yesterday] a guy was trying to get a place for him and his daughter. He can’t find nothing because he’s got the background check. He’s out doing good. He’s not been in trouble for a long time. What do you do?”
In addition to supporting themselves and their families, many former prisoners are required to pay restitution to the victims of their crimes. And being unable to find housing or steady employment isn’t just a hurdle—it could eventually send them back to prison for violating their probation or parole.
‘I NEEDED EVERY BIT OF MY TIME’
Rick has been to prison four times in his life. During his last stint, he realized he needed to change. Drastically.
“I got on my hands and knees and started praying, reading the Word. And God [spoke] to me,” he says.
“I made a commitment to change my life. And to do it all through prison. Because if I didn’t start my reentry when I was in the county jail, I would have needed more time. I needed every bit of time I did… to change.”
Unfortunately, many people can’t see past Rick’s criminal record.
“What they see is what they see on paper,” he explains. “After us guys come out of prison, [people] see… their background check, and they go, ‘Oh, he’s this and he’s that.’ [We’re] labeled… [We’re] not given the opportunity to get out, move in, and show that [we’re] actually doing the right thing.”
HOW TO RESPOND
Collateral consequences can have long-lasting impact on former prisoners and their families. They also contribute to recidivism, making incarceration a way of life in America.
So, how can you help? Learn more about the needs of former prisoners returning home at Prison Fellowship®’s Second Prison Project™.
Looking for practical resources for prisoners and their families? We’ve got you covered with Prison Fellowship’s “Support for Friends and Family of Prisoners.“
Finally, if you have a heart for justice reform, we invite you to find out how you can advocate for change with Prison Fellowship.
This article was originally written for Prison Fellowship. It is reprinted here with permission.