Tuesday, December 31, 2013

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.

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