Tuesday, March 25, 2014

If I can be a better me, I won’t be afraid

I know some of you have been waiting anxiously for me to dispel some of the misconceptions tossed out there by a few closed-minded individuals.

For those of you offering positive feedback, and even for those of you who have disagreed or asked me questions but did so as one human talking to another – thank you. For the rest of you, well, maybe I would have been open to a conversation with you if you hadn’t started off with insults.  One can disagree without being rude.  And for a very small percentage of you who took “rude” to an extra special place, and whom I would truly not waste the time to address, except that people have asked me what I am going to say to you….which is, “Troll much?”
Where do we draw the line?
There already IS a line. There is already a team of people judging parents by their past, and already a set of guidelines they follow to do so. Many of the charges listed in the guidelines have exceptions if 5 or 10 years have passed, and I believe that is where people with histories of my nature (nonviolent offenders with no arrests in over a decade) also belong. Not on the list of offenders that are restricted from volunteering in their own child's classroom for the rest of their lives.

Here is the thing…ALL of those offenses I listed in the sentence above are VIOLENT offenders. They are a different category of people than non-violent offenders. Quite honestly part of my decision to speak out was my frustration at being lumped into the same category. I do not belong on the same banishment list as a sex offender. That is nonsense. 

I did not hold anyone at gun or knife point. I didn’t hurt, injure, maim, kill, or kidnap any children (or adults for that matter, I didn’t do these things to ANYone).  I didn’t beat up anyone’s grandma or rape anyone or rob any stores or banks or people.

I am not saying that it was not a completely idiotic thing to do, because clearly I know now that it was, but I simply introduced two people to one another; one person with drugs and one person that wanted drugs (who was apparently being set up by an informant). I honestly had no idea that was a felony offense.  I have heard many times over the years that a “decent” attorney (read: if I had money for a real attorney and not a 3rd string public defender at the time) could have gotten my charge reduced and I would have ended up found guilty of a different charge. Whether or not that would have happened, I may never know.  And that’s ok, I guess.  I accepted my small amount of participation as horrible a long time ago, and decided I can just try to be the best me that I can moving forward. You know? I just try not let it get me down or make me think that I should return to that lifestyle since that is what judgmental people expect of me anyway.  Because ultimately who I am is not up to them, it is up to me.

I served a year in county jail (not prison, there IS a difference) and 3 years of probation.

It was the first and last time I have gotten in trouble, I think I cried for the whole first week in there (contrary to my own preconceived notion, nobody tried to beat me up or even give me a hard time for that, but I digress). I have had zero subsequent arrests since 2002.

Habitual offenders don’t go more than a decade between arrests. I am not one of those either.

I am not a bomber, a bank robber, or even a drug dealer.

I’m just a mom with an exuberant 6 year old girl who absolutely loves learning.

When I was arrested, I did NOT think about how this would affect my children (Sadly, I think it is pretty safe to say I wasn’t thinking much at all at the time). I did NOT think it would affect my ability to participate at my daughter’s school when she was born 6 years ago.  I did not even think it would affect my ability to participate in her school LAST year, when she began pre-k and this very same county let me participate and help with the class.  It was only this year, when she began kindergarten, it has become an issue.

The laws on what constitutes a felony and the laws governing when someone is forgiven for a felony vary widely from state to state. I would LOVE to expunge, seal, or pardon my record and in many other states that would have already been granted.  I am working on that.

I am extremely grateful for all of the positive support. It is not easy to stand up and say I was this person when I was younger, but I feel like it is better to be open about it than to try and pretend it never happened.  Some would probably prefer I beat myself up forever, but I can’t work towards a better future if I just sit around and focus on my past.  What kind of example would that set for my kids?
I am extremely happy that this conversation has been started. I think it is important that the effects of laws against non-violent felons, the various difficulties they face trying to function as a productive member of society, and the challenges in having their rights restored are talked about, and not swept under the rug.

I feel this way even more strongly after hearing from so many parents, both locally and across the country, that are struggling with similar estrangement issues. Many with charges far less offensive than my own.  It helps, knowing you’re there, and knowing that I’m not alone.  I am overwhelmed by how much of the feedback continues to be positive, and I am grateful for the continued support.  Thank you.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The things we do for love.....

There was a room parent meeting for me this morning. I always have to fight back anxiety and force myself to go. It has, at times, made me physically ill. I often worry that they will tell me I am not allowed to be a room parent anymore since I have been so far unable to successfully appeal the dividend office's decision to refuse my volunteer application (because of one arrest from 12 years ago that has NOTHING to do with children, but I digress....).

At the second room parent meeting for the year, the room parents turned me away, since I wasn't on the approved dividend list (this was NOT their fault, they are just following the rules and checking off names on a list, it isn't THEIR fault I was not selected as an "approved" parent), and my name happened to have a ------- line through where I was supposed to sign in.
I was hurt and confused, because at the end of the first meeting I had met with the principal and explained that my application had been denied and that I was attempting to appeal that decision. She gave me permission to perform all the functions of being a room parent that did not require direct interaction with children. I remember leaving the meeting when I was turned away, tears streaming down my face as I made my way to the parking lot and found my van. I am glad I took those few extra minutes to compose myself before driving, since I managed to strengthen my resolve and go back in to the receptionist (which was by far one of the hardest things I have done, and I have walked in to a courtroom knowing I wasn't coming back out the front door, and that I wouldn't see freedom for 1-3 years, and this was harder). The receptionist found the principal, who then escorted me quietly and discreetly to the meeting.

I remember how totally normal that meeting ended up being, and how glad I was that I had squashed down my tears and my urge to run away, and gone back to the meeting. I am also eternally grateful for how kind and understanding every parent that I have eventually told about my situation has been. Clearly, I had to explain to the moms running the room parent meeting what had happened. They have been exceptional at making me feel like a regular part of the group.

Every meeting since then, there has been a ----------- line next to my daughter's teacher's name, through the spot where I would need to sign in to the meeting.  I've never been turned away again, but as far as the paperwork is concerned, I was never there.....and I know that is hardly a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but it often feels as if someone in that school is going to great lengths to make sure that "unapproved" parents don't feel too welcome.  One of the moms this morning told me that she was afraid I had quit when she saw the line where my name went. I didn't bother telling her how many times I had almost done just that.

I also heard that they are talking about just completely getting rid of parents having lunch with students at all next year.  I now feel a need to apologize to my fellow room moms (and any parents that regularly join their child for lunch now), since that is likely my fault, and a result of the school being (hopefully) unable to make me sit outside for lunch next year after I drew some attention to their newsletter post on the subject.  I guess they are thinking if they can't separate the riff raff,  then just ban lunch for everyone!

I email myself my 2 hours of volunteer time for attending the meeting. I can't log in to the volunteer system so the school doesn't get to count my hours as a volunteer. I email them to myself in the hopes that someday I will get approved, and then all my hours will count too.

 it's time for me to go tie-dye 18 t-shirts for the field trip to the zoo that I won't get to go on after Spring Break, and then we get to start planning for teacher appreciation week and the end of the year party (that I also won't get to attend).  I suppose I could stop torturing myself, but part of turning my life around involves following through on things I sign up for so I consider myself stuck in this obligation until at least the end of this year.  That and I am going to be as involved as they will possibly let me because I love my little girl, I thought I was going to get to be part of her school's community, and it breaks my heart that I can't just function as a normal mom there.
I can honestly say I think they have successfully taken enough wind out of my sails to make sure I don't volunteer for much next year. That's sad. How many other parents have they deflated in this way? It is so hard to stay pumped up to help in the face of so many hurdles to prevent involvement!
 If the parents struggle to stay excited, motivated, and involved about their education, how will the kids stay excited, motivated, and involved?

On that note, I will end today's rant.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lunch with someone you love

I love that my daughter's school does this! I was so excited to do things like go visit my little girl for lunch.  That was before I learned I cannot be an approved dividend. At the beginning of the school year, the rule was that you had to be a dividend in order to visit your child for lunch.

When I learned I wasn't going to be approved, at least not anytime soon, I told the dividend department that the school said I needed to be a dividend to join my child for lunch, and that wasn't fair to tell me I couldn't do that.

A week or so later there was an automated call from the school, letting parents know that the rule was being amended, and you no longer needed to be a dividend to join your child for lunch.
Awesome. :)

The first lunch went ok. They half-heartedly attempted to have all the kids with adults sit at the regular class table, but all at one end, and all the kids without parents at the other end.
Needless to say, that was a disorganized kind of mess. For one thing, all the kids with parents there are excited to show them off, and all the kids without parents there are curious to see their friends parents and say hello. Several of my daughter's friends said hi to me and I politely said hello back. I'm always afraid to say anything more, as if I will get in trouble for having a simple conversation. Often they show me part of their lunch, and I say something like "Goldfish. Cool. I like Goldfish. They're yummy."

I'd also like to mention that the cafeteria is lined with teachers and approved volunteers, so it isn't like anyone is alone with anyone else's kids. Ever.

About two weeks ago, we got the flyer for the next "Lunch with someone you love" so I filled it out and sent it in. A week later, we saw this in the school newsletter:

Wow. Ok, so next year I can still go to lunch but I have to sit outside? And the other parents can join me outside if they want to, or they can sit inside with all the other "good" parents if they want.

I certainly hope this school is not allowed to move forward with such a blatantly segregating rule.

So after that I got to go to lunch with my little girl yesterday. I just want to say that I do understand what they are trying to do, and I do appreciate the efforts to keep our schools "safe" but I don't think there is a way to keep the "riff raff" like myself separate from the general population of parents without creating some very unfair, biased, discriminatory, and outdated rules.

This time they split the cafeteria in half. Kids that had someone they loved there got to sit in one half of the cafeteria and the kids who didn't have anyone who loved them there got to sit in the other half of the cafeteria and watch the kids who had guests from afar. I will say that seems more fair than making me (and other parents that don't meet the strict criteria to be a volunteer) sit outside. But I did feel bad for the kids sitting alone, staring longingly at the "Lunch with someone you love" tables. Because you see, when we volunteer at a school, it is not just our own children who might benefit. It is also those children who DON'T have someone who cares enough to invest their time or energy. The kid who can be so positively affected by just a few kind words of encouragement and a smile. Those kids that are like I was when I was a kid. I want so much to be able to give back to my community like what so many volunteers did for me when nobody from my house could be bothered to care.

Overall, it was a better day than I had hoped. They didn't try to make me sit outside, my daughters' friends' parents treat me normally as far as I can tell. :) And most of all, my daughter seems to be unaffected by any of this nonsense that is my volunteer status and happy with her school and her friends. For that, I am grateful.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Some days I want to cry

That is a lie. Some days I come back from an emotionally draining experience at my child's school to fall on my couch and sob uncontrollably.

I just wanted to be treated like a human being and like a parent, because I am both of these things.

Days like this almost make me want to give up. To just give in to the sadness and the sobbing and say "Alright, you win. I will sit my pathetic loser felon ass here on my couch and butt out and not come to the school unless it is absolutely necessary and required that I am there."

Today, it's not even my dividend status. And so it has me wondering if I even picked the right school. Luckily we get to choose from three schools so I'll probably look into some specific policies at the two schools I did not pick and see if they are more inviting to parents (regardless of dividend status) than the one we are at currently. Because I don't know if I want my child at a school that discourages parents from walking their child to class or running an item to the doorway of a classroom. I think that I am not okay with this. And as relieved as I was to learn that it was not MY specific dividend status that was the issue today, it kind of made me MORE concerned to hear it was a blanket policy that applied to everyone. I think I may have been less upset to hear this was just because it was me, the felon, the parent who is NOT an approved dividend.....

"Most parents bring them to lunch" they said. Ok, that's great, but I don't want my kid eating her cupcake for her lunch, and I don't know how happy the other parents would be about that either. The cupcakes I was dropping off were for their snack, later in the day, well after lunch. And yeah, I can and will approach it differently next year, but maybe if I write it down someone will eventually pay attention to these policies that don't really sound like they were written while thinking about kids and parents as human beings.  This is not my dog that I dropped off at a kennel for supervision, this is my child that is supposed to be coming to a place of learning. Only now I wonder, what IS she learning, exactly.....?

Shouldn't ANY parent feel like they can walk in to the school at any time and see their child IN the classroom setting? Even without a reason? Shouldn't ANY parent feel they have a right to walk to the classroom and hand snacks or supplies directly to the teacher? Should there ever be a time that a parent is prohibited from these things?  Is it really more disruptive for a parent to take a moment to give a teacher supplies at the doorway to their classroom than it is to remove two students from class entirely to go to the office to collect the item?  Should the office refuse to tell the teacher that a parent is waiting with the item, to ensure the parent is not left waiting for an exceptional amount of time? Should the school policy be to discourage parents from waiting with the item they are donating to the teacher and classroom and instead imply that they should just drop the item off? Should parents be encouraged to take a less personal and interactive approach with their gifts?

I may have been raised by wolves, but even *I* know it feels more polite to give a gift directly to a person than it is to deposit it with a third party.

Am I just overreacting? Should I just accept, as all the other parents have accepted, that I should just not expect to ever walk my child to class or deliver gifts or snacks unless it is before or after school hours? And that I should bring cupcakes during lunch to upset all the kids' nutrition for the day?  Should I basically adopt a hands off approach with my kid's school? That isn't why I picked this county for my child to GO to school in.
My child's teacher arrives just before the bell, and I personally don't think she should be expected to arrive early or stay late in order to have the added politeness and respect of me giving her the things directly. I cannot imagine the patience she must have to do what she does all day. Let the woman go HOME when her day is done. She doesn't want to sit around waiting for me, even if I have tons of hand sanitizer and tissues.
Perhaps I just have unrealistic expectations of what "parental involvement" is, but it certainly doesn't seem like it fits with this "discourage all parents from being on campus at all costs" approach that I seem to be experiencing. Because that makes me WANT to help less. It makes me LESS likely to donate items or money or my time, and I don't think that's a good overall policy to have if you want to keep parents involved. Having these realizations makes me sad, because I did all the "right" research before selecting our home and made sure to pick the "best" schools. Or did I? Because it is starting to look like maybe I didn't ask any of the right questions.....

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

School Employment Screenings

Let's talk about the school employment screenings, since I have mentioned being glad that the county is looking out for the safety of my children as well as everyone else's....So these screenings, are they 100% foolproof? Meaning, have they completely eliminated ALL incidents of abuse by teachers in our county?
Well, let's look at the first thing google came up with (though there were several more) http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/keyword/school-teacher
But...you protest....they were screened!
Yeah, they were screened, and deemed to be acceptable to allow around children because nothing came up on their background check.

Screening only prevents employment of people that have been caught for their offenses in the past. Screening volunteers as employees isn't going to magically make this screening more effective, but it does decrease the amount of parental involvement that a school can receive by banishing certain parents from helping out during most events.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

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The other F word

Sometimes when I am honest about my past, a hush falls over the group of moms and a look of uncertainty flitters across their faces. Most of them have usually known me for a while, and know that I am not scary or what you would typically first think of when you hear the word felon, and they recover quickly. And it IS like dropping an F-bomb, because there is a different reaction if I say "I made poor choices when I was younger" vs "I'm a convicted felon" Sometimes the second one is necessary though, like when people are trying to pressure me to vote or something that I can't legally do yet (as I mentioned in a previous post, I am filing for restoration of my rights and/or clemency this year) But even those who are thoroughly surprised usually at least act like they are fine with the new information after asking me a few questions about it to satisfy their curiosity.
My sweet girl’s birthday is next month. I’m probably allowed to drop off cookies or cupcakes or whatever in the front office for the class, but I won’t be able to walk them down the hall to the classroom door even just to wave or maybe say happy birthday, but certainly not to stay and help serve the cupcakes. We’ll do her party elsewhere, but that’s not my point.
My daughter is an exceptional reader. She’s in kindergarten, and has read all of the Ramona Quimby and Junie B. Jones books on her own so many times the backs are worn. She’s starting Ralph S. Mouse, she LOVES the Chronicles of Narnia, and we just started the Warriors series. Yes, I said she’s in kindergarten. Yes, I know. Her dad and I met in gifted class in elementary school and she has an awesome role model in her big sister, who always has her nose in a book.

It’s also book fair time. I’m starting to get emails asking for volunteers to help set up.  I’m pro-book, pro-reading, and happen to think I’m really good at engaging kids with that sort of thing, and that my daughter is proof of that. That isn’t what they’re even asking for help with though. It would be moving shelves and setting up books. I can’t help with this(or anything in the media center), because it is in the media center and there “might” be students present and I’m not an “approved dividend”. Never mind that there is a teacher/librarian in the media center at all times or that I’d be too busy moving boxes of books to give the kids my felon cooties anyway.
Conveniently, the way it is set up right now makes it almost impossible for anyone to find out about anyone else who can’t volunteer, since it is through the county office and not at the school itself. If anyone overhears anyone say anything to the school, they will hear them be reassured and directed to the dividend office. We’re supposed to be too ashamed of ourselves to start talking to other parents about it and learn that we aren’t alone. We’re supposed to feel too isolated to do anything about it so that we don’t bother, and give up and sit home without bringing this injustice to anyone’s attention. 

Well, I have no problem talking about my past.  I own my mistakes and acknowledge my history. I do not hide from it or shrink in embarrassment. It is who I was, but not who I am. I find most people to be understanding, sympathetic, and supportive of my predicament.  I hope to find other decent, hardworking parents that find themselves in a similar situation to let them know they may feel outcast, but they are not as alone as they think. (You’re not, I promise, see?)
If the school board is going to imply that I am less than adequate to volunteer, regardless of the length of time and the stacks of evidence and recommendation letters attesting to my hard work to change my lifestyle for the last DECADE, well, it’s a good thing I have a fabulous therapist because I won’t let them get to me. What I did twelve years ago (that still feels cool, to add another year) does not make me any less worthy of a normal experience and involvement with my child’s school and classroom.

Denying parents with criminal history over a decade old the chance to volunteer not only continues to punish us for our pasts beyond what the law requires, but punishes our children for it as well.

It just seems silly when I rarely see my own child during the volunteer projects I am allowed to help with. If I do it is when she stays after school with me to decorate the room or the door.  I can’t get there early and start before the end of school, which really kind of stinks since because of the traffic I have to arrive super early to be able to find somewhere to park. Then I sit either in my van or in the front office until school gets out and I am allowed to make my way to the classroom. Or I can come early in the morning (but not before 7:15 because that is when the office opens) but I have to be out the door by 7:25 when the bell rings. That gives me 10 minutes to set up for a party or whatever I need to do. Please don’t misunderstand, I am thankful for the ways I am allowed to help, but just think about how discouraging that is for a minute.
At the beginning of the year the school announced that you had to be a dividend to visit your child for lunch, and I will say that after I think the second time I contacted the dividend office and complained about this, the school changed this policy and no longer requires parents to be an approved volunteer to join their child for lunch. They do ask that we sit separately from the rest of our child's class though. That's fine by me, I'm very glad they changed it, since they often do "lunch with someone you love" and send home flyers asking family members to come join their child for lunch, and I had a lovely time when I was there. Pretty sure my little one did too! <3

I acknowledge and am thankful that they are trying to keep our schools safe, I do have two children in the system. But let's apply just a LITTLE bit of common sense here. When someone asks you to please look at them as a person, don't just repeat the same statute like a parrot. I understand what you are saying, I'm saying it is a bit harsh and to please look at it more closely.

By simply having different people repeat the same guidelines for screening of employees to me, you are telling me that you aren't looking at it any differently than you did the first time, because I'm not asking for a job, I'm just asking to be a volunteer.

vol-un-teer [vol-uh n-teer]
1. a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking.
2. a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.