The three biggest factors to recidivism are a support system, employment & permanent home address. I find it ironic when thinking in terms of support system. Certainly that was at least a contributor to failure at the start, whether it is an actual crime or not knowing your rights or representation. 50% of parolees are successful in meeting their conditions, 60% of probationers are as well. Not impressed? I wasn’t until I learned that of those 85% who return are due to technical violations, such as not having a job. As our impact list indicates, this touches everyone in the community and is more than just a humanitarian effort if the bottom line is strictly your concern.
Speaking of support system, I’ll explain briefly a very traumatic & deep part of my life in growing up with my primary caretaker, my mother. A woman who passed away just a few short years ago; in losing her, my emotions were complex. As any person living with a relative with mental illness can attest. She was schizophrenic & epileptic. Have you seen A Beautiful Mind? Unlike a couple hour movie for the purposes of deep thinking & entertainment, that was my life growing up. My father, in the military, and always working; otherwise he was not around. He was honorable, but not present.
Moving every few years, either to a new state or new town; & being dyslexic, I was the new kid showing up dressed in missed-match clothing and stinking of sweat as I raised myself. I can tell you first hand I didn’t do a top notch job, but I tried. Try as I may, I wasn’t just caring for myself. In some ways I was caring for my mother as well. In some respects my brother, who had other afflictions. As you can presume for myself and others who come from a lack of support, you often times find yourself attaching to whoever will have you. I can honestly say, I had no confidence, and no standard for which I felt I deserved quality people in my life which resulted in a lot of rework. At the very least I wasted a few years trying to fit in the wrong support system.
I am no angel; I’m willing to bet no one is. In fact I had my fair share of criticism from teachers and other authority figures. Not necessarily for the reasons you may think. I was critical, and didn’t fail to share my thoughts. “Mouth” was my nickname, not because I talked incessantly, but because my communication packed a wallop. In this way, I sure didn’t gain alliances. All these factors created the perfect storm. I attracted the wrong people, with a misconception of what I stood for, & in turn I had no personal value to which I should be affiliated with.
Eventually, I worked as a cashier at a grocery store at 18 years old. One night, I was pulled aside where it was explained to me that a couple hundred dollars was missing from my cash drawer. Though I had a mouth, I did respect authority, specifically in intimidating situations. Pulled off to a side room, where one loss prevention person set their chair in front of the door, it was explained to me I wasn’t leaving until I agreed to the written terms. It’s interesting in hindsight; if one should refuse to contribute without an attorney present, which is our right, I would be deemed guilty by onlookers just on virtue.
Interesting factors in my case, I was under duress undoubtedly. As a cashier previously, I thought it odd that I never witnessed a count of my drawer; I simply slide it into a hole in the literal wall for a “cash office” to count down without any knowledge I made a conscious decision to seclude myself. After long hours of insistence, I signed the documentation loss prevention put before me. I reconciled that I would deal with it later, not realizing I had sealed my fate. I was tired, I was hungry, and I was scared. I wanted to go home. I wanted to ask a “grown up” what I should do, but no one was available to me. I signed the document.
I was dismissed from the job. Over time, my most pressing concern was getting a new job, as I had lived on my own and going back to my parent’s home was not an option. Steadily I received letters from my former employer insisting that I “pay back” the loss from the cash drawer. Broke and barely making it, I concluded I would not do so since I felt there was nothing to substantiate this. The letters specifically stated “may or may not press charges” & I felt that if I had paid the money it would warrant pressing charges, in presumably admitting guilt.
As time went on, the letters continued & the amount demanded increased, as my former employer added interest, bringing the amount from a misdemeanor to a Class D felony as I would learn. A complicated set of circumstances created the perfect storm, and it was official, charges were indeed brought against me & filed. I was fortunate in that growing up somewhat orphaned, my friends families would look out for me where they could. It was then all hands were on deck, as they advised I needed an attorney.
My dad sought out the best attorney he could find. I had plans to enlist into the military afterall. and this would significantly impact that. This hotshot lawyer bragged of his no losing streak. Indeed, as we had later learned, after paying him a pretty penny he advised me to plead out. Scared at the concept of facing prison time of 5 years, he advised us the risk was there, we should take a plea, and that I did. I asked if letters from community leaders and peers would help? He advised strongly against it. Being “mouth”, I did it anyway. Fortunately the judge decided at sentencing that if not for those letters I would have served a significant time for a new felon. He had mercy on me and had me serve two weeks. Resolved right? No.
In jail, I learned little nuances that one could never know of this culture. Such as, I wasn’t aware I couldn’t wear undergarments that weren’t white. Upon coming into jail I was ordered not only to a strip search, but to dress in jail attire without underwear. No big deal right? No. It would be a cruel twist of fate that I had started my period just a couple days in. It turns out, if other inmates see you bleeding you will get beat up. I also didn’t know the secret culture in which you must shower your first day there, or you will get beat up as well. I can tell you, taking a shower without shower shoes and risking a fungal infection was not a high priority on my list, but I did so with the advice of a fellow inmate looking out for me. She gave me menstrual pads to stand on. Sounds funny, but it’s a real problem.
Starting my menstrual cycle was a big deal because you can’t let others see you bleed, though in my case they likely would. Why? I had no underwear, and you do not get tampons, unless you buy tampons. I had pads, but nothing to stick them to. My jumpsuit was oversized, you get what you get. The crotch of it came down to my knees. I slept on the floor since it was overcrowded for a while, on newspaper. I sat in one spot as long as I could, with any pads I could get or homemade toilet paper made pads. I was a criminal after all. Though I wasn’t guilty of this, I am not without folly and justified to myself, I deserved this.
"You can have tampons, if you can buy them" a nurse advised me. You buy items with money on your book (account). How do you arrange that? I had asked any and all support system I could. Visibly bleeding was problem because it’s considered a risk; infectious disease is a serious problem in jails and prisons. I had learned I was surrounded by many women who had HIV/AIDs from prostitution or otherwise. Finally I got a bunk; top which turns out is not what you want. It was of course the perfect size for a small child. Getting in and out of it tore up my legs.
Finally, I got out of jail. On my last day, just hours before I was released, I got a bag of items I ordered through my account, items such as toothpaste, tampons, etc. it took two weeks to process, so I no longer needed it as I was being released that day.
I started with visiting a probation officer on my full day of freedom. Where I learned I would need to abide my very strict standards. He explained I could not drink; I could not have an empty beer can in my trash whether it was from myself or someone else, as random home and job site search would commence. I could not have expired tags, I had to have a place to live, I had to have a job, & more. If I did not abide by these rules, I would go back to jail to serve out the rest of the 5 years. I was scared to death, I was young and I knew my friends would drink or anything else. I couldn’t even be in their presence without being at risk.
I decided I would go to college, work two jobs, and have no time to be physically around any possible threat. In that time, I slept 3 hours a day and worked myself to the bone. I wanted to have children one day after all, and how could I justify it if I had nothing to offer them, so I worked. I donated eggs a couple of times, intrigued with fertility and birth I once dreamed of being a midwife. I intended to go to school for nursing, but was told it may not be the best idea given my circumstances.
I eventually completed my education, nearly 10 years after having earned several degrees. I enjoyed learning and rationalized I would overcompensate for my dyslexia and background issue. I learned in the worst way possible it wasn’t that easy. I was honest on applications, just to be turned down with the felony as a reason.
Eventually, I grew tired, wondering why anyone would waste my time interviewing me just to tell me this was a barrier. Applications aren’t consistent is how the question is asked. After 7-10 years I would answer no, as the question was specific to that time frame. sometimes I have had jobs for a couple months, to alternatively learn it was a problem. I have had offers, just to have them rescinded after having given my notice due to slow background checks. I have lost my position in mergers where company A signed off on it, but company B did not despite years of superior service. You wouldn’t have found a more dedicated staff member than me. I learned in time KY FCRA laws are one of few that allow lifelong checks, so the question of timeframe is not relevant in the state.
I was married eventually. In our marriage we were having trouble conceiving. I was told I could not adopt. My only option would be to get IVF. Having donated before, I knew very specifically the cost and time for IVF, so I worked hard and I saved. I worked harder in my life than I ever had. I donated plasma, I participated in medical experiments, worked multiple jobs, began publishing & journalism in part to have a voice where I could not vote, and to stabilize income for the never ending job drama.
I did everything I could do to raise money. With that and other options we invested 30k into attempting IVF, though results were not guaranteed. The situation didn’t pan out, and the marriage ended. Nearly 20 years out, I am still considered a threat to society with a lack of knowledge that a class D felony is not the same as a class A capital offense, there’s no knowledge to distinguish the difference. With shock and awe, as if I am suddenly not worthy to sit in the same room as others more fortunate, time and time again I was turned down. At times, people will say “you’re are the exception, & this is unfortunate”. I can tell you, nothing makes me sicker to my stomach then knowing that redemption is considered for "exceptions". Moreover, I am not an exception; I am some representation of the majority. At the very least, we all make mistakes, but we move on. I was reliving the very rejection I grew up feeling in the worst way.
2nd Chances was birthed from this. Many pardon applications I’ve submitted have been overlooked at the end of administration terms, this is how it works. I looked for a mission, an action, what I’ve been doing hasn’t been working, now was time for change. Serendipity would have it; I met a Jason Smith and eventually Crystal Powell through Facebook comments on news sources. I asked Jason if he would like to be a part of this, where he introduced me to Crystal and organically the same was asked.
At the time, we proactively shared information and passed on resources, beyond that this was the extent of what we had to offer. Concurrently I had a peer group of volunteers brainstorming with me on what should happen. It occurred to me, if we could just place people in jobs specifically with these setbacks, that’s the resolution. My experience is in analytics, I pulled the data, I had to see it for myself, and it was substantiated. In time, the two groups merged and we are on a mission.
Again, the three biggest factors to recidivism are support system, employment & permanent home address. I find it ironic when thinking in terms of support system. Certainly that was at least a contributor to failure at the start. 50% of parolees are successful in meeting their conditions, 60% of probationers are as well. Not impressed, I wasn’t until I learned that of those 85% who return are due to technically violations such as not having a job.
1 in 4 people have some sort of criminal record. Let's change the world together.