Thursday, January 16, 2014

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.

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