Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Created the facebook page today

For those of you who have Facebook, and would like to support my cause there. Thanks!


reflections on life as a felon, in general

I can't pinpoint the moment that I decided to make a positive change in my life. Sometime when I was in jail/therapy, I guess. It also didn't happen instantly, either. They tell you in therapy "change your people, places, and things" but they don't mention how enormously difficult that can be when your people are your family and you are too poor to do much about your places.  Surrounded with the same people and places, well, the things are going to be the same too.

It took enormous effort to change. Truly, it did. I had grown up learning to look for corners to cut and loopholes to slip through. This whole straight and narrow thing is tough.
I tell my five year old "Sometimes when you make a bad choice, you look around after and all you see is more bad choices." but I also told her that if you LOOK hard enough, you'll find a good choice, no matter how small it may be, and that if you make that small good choice, when you look around among the bad choices, the next good choice will be easier to see.

I have heard it said that integrity is doing the right thing even when there is nobody around to see you do it.

Do you know how HARD that actually is? When you approach a turn and there are no other cars around, do you still use your turn signal? I do. Now. I find if I take these little things, like returning the extra change given to me by the cashier, or picking up the wallet on the ground and bringing it inside the nearest store to turn it in to the lost and found without checking to see if there is cash inside, then I have better judgment when I get to the big things.

"Society" doesn't help make it easy, either.  Do you know how difficult it is to try and reform your entire life when you get out of jail as a convicted felon?

It is significantly harder to find employment as a convicted felon. Sure, I could have gone back to dancing, I'm sure there are plenty of convicted felon exotic dancers, right?  But for one thing I was making a conscious choice to walk away from that lifestyle, and for two our county was cracking down on those kind of establishments. 11 years later there are only 2 or 3 left, where there used to be a dozen or two. But I digress....whether they were closing or not, I wanted nothing more to do with them.

My secondary career had been as a veterinary technician. Way less money, but hey, I'd be able to make ends meet, right?

After a long period of putting in applications a and checking YES in the "ever been convicted of a felony" box, I was finally able to secure a position as a vet tech despite my inability to help with controlled substances (because I have a drug charge)

Honest living? Check.

Next up, living arrangements. Since being the chick on people's couch is getting old.

Did you know that apartment complexes are allowed to discriminate against convicted felons? Yup. They can actually give that as the reason for denying your application.  So that's two amazing hurdles that just about every felon has to face when they are finally released into the world.

Long story short, I moved several states away to move in with my dad, stepmom, and brother while I got a job and got back on my feet. But it took me a year or so of couch surfing and getting denials for jobs and apartments before I realized that was pretty much the only way I was going to get anywhere good and stable.

I can't carry any form of protection for myself....no guns, no stun guns, no pepper spray. This is a source of anxiety for me when I worry about  if something were to happen when my husband wasn't with us I would not be able to defend us.  At least when we are at home, we have a VERY large dog to watch over us :)

I can't vote, so I get zero input into the people making the rules that allow others to discriminate against me.

And now, the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, the intolerable act that makes me brave enough to stand up in the face of judgment and scrutiny and say loudly, "ENOUGH", is being unable to participate like a normal parent when it comes to my kids and their school.  Have you ever gone to one of the kindergarten parties?  And they're all happy and excited and squealing and having a great time? Super cute, isn't it?

Just think about that for a minute. And how good it feels to be there watching your child play with their friends and have a good time. I get to school early and set up all the games and decorations and snacks and then rush to get out of there before the bell rings, since once that happens I am no longer authorized to be there. As I am leaving, I pass the other room moms on their way in to set up for and attend their parties.

Our pre-k division is separate from the k-12 part of our school, so last year I was able to do those things, as pre-k did not require me to be a registered dividend with the county to volunteer.
This year, since my daughter is in actual kindergarten, I have to be approved through the county in order to do this simple thing that so many parents take for granted, and don't attend even though they could.

It makes me both sad and angry at the same time. It is not fair.  To me, or to anyone else with a criminal history that has learned from their mistake. 
I wanted to argue that my conviction doesn't define me. Except that it does, but not the way the county implies. It does not define me as a felon or as someone without "good moral character" or as a person unfit to be around kids. In fact, I'd say it is the REASON behind my moral character, and the reason I try so hard NOT to be a typical "convicted felon" and keep making poor choices. It is the reason why I am so strict on myself and the reason I continue to strive to do good.

I'm just trying to do right and be positive and show my kids what I never saw SO THAT THEY DON'T END UP IN JAIL LIKE I DID. Can you help me out here, school board?

This is why I can't (and won't) give up.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Volunteering at school

At the beginning of this year my little girl started kindergarten <3
She's a happy, spunky, helpful and responsible kind of kid.

We went to meet the teacher, had orientation, and signed up to volunteer. Looking over the list, I saw we had several "helper moms" but no-one had signed up for room mom.  I'm an adventurous and creative sort, so I figured Why not? If nobody else wants to, I certainly can. I'm a stay at home mom and I have the time and energy to do it.

Well, here's why not.  Remember when you were 22 and hung out with bad people and drank too much and made stupid choices while you were drunk and got arrested along with 3 other people and slapped with a felony drug traffiking charge and spent a year in county jail? That's why not.

Oh yeah.....while riding the waves of self-improvement and family life I had given no thought to the ghosts of my past haunting me in this way.  That certainly throws a monkey wrench into things.

I've had people ask me why I would want to volunteer to help out for people that make me feel unwelcome. Well, first off, the actual people I am helping at the schools are super nice. I am very upfront, as I find it easier to explain why I can't help for something than to sit while they are asking for help and have them think I don't care, because I do. It is the people at the county office who denied my application because they don't think I'm of "good moral character" because of something from eleven years ago.

I was essentially raised by wolves. It is a wonder I survived my childhood. My mother was 17 when I was born and when I was with her I often took care of myself (for as long as I can remember) I remember her sleeping a lot, and she didn't take much interest in my school, except to make sure I was still pulling straight A's in my all gifted classes with no guidance from her.  I have not one memory of her volunteering in my class or even contributing to a party or event.  I spent a few years with my grandma and she showed me how it feels when there is someone who cares to be involved. I treasure that time in my life and my goal is to make sure my kids can feel how loving and secure that feels when someone cares to donate their time to something important to you.

For this reason, I am a very involved and dedicated mom. Even after being denied as a county volunteer, I volunteer many hours helping to the elementary school with the things I am allowed to help with. I pretty much sign up for everything and let them say no where I can't help. At first I think it was hard for the receptionist to tell me no, but I was always happy and nice about it. I told her I understand when they have to say no, as long as they understand I have to keep asking :)

I have now asked the county to let me volunteer a total of four times, and been denied four times. I am told that my particular charge renders me unable to volunteer ever for as long as I live.
I am not a violent or sex offender, my crime did not involve any children (other than myself, an overgrown kidult at the time).  I am not required to register with the county and I am not required to refrain from being in the presence of children. My arrest was in 2002 and I finished probation in 2007.

Volunteers should NOT be held to the same standard as teachers. I'm not a teacher, and I wouldn't be teaching. The teacher would always be present. But, if we want to play that game, I found a state statute listing the criteria for granting an exemption for disqualification of employment. The first item on that lists says that the department head (I am guessing the superintendent) can grant the exemption for felony cases where more than 3 years have passed since the applicant finished probation. But the county policy has nothing like this in place for people like me.

And then it occurred to me there might be more great parents out there that can't volunteer because of their past. And I imagine most of them roll over and give up after that first or second denial.
But I have 12 1/2 more years of my daughter's education, and I can't stand the thought of watching from the sidelines when such a small percent of parents are actually showing up to volunteer.

So for my next trick, I plan to present to the school board during the public forum part of their meeting. I will have 3 minutes to speak (and I have my speech down to 3 minutes and 20 seconds, so just a little more editing to go!) and present my case. 
I plan to ask for exemption for myself, as well as the creation of a part-time dividend position (currently unavailable) in accordance with the state policy and statutes that I found, to make it easier for other parents like myself to still participate in their child's educational community,

Stay tuned, this could get interesting!