"Diversity" Efforts Should Include Felons
I had a gig working as a parking deck maintenance man at a busy hospital. My job was to keep the deck free of trash and valet patient vehicles when needed. During my time at the hospital, I met a guy named Rob. Rob was moved over to my area to help out and we instantly connected. We chatted about vast arrays of topics ranging from music to politics. One frigid morning, we started to talk about the perils of living in a low-income area. Rob disclosed intimate details of how he was raised. He grew up in a sketchy part of the city riddled with drugs and violent crime. Upon meeting him, I would have never guessed he had such a rough upbringing since he was so well-mannered.
Nothing could have prepared me for what he would say next. He revealed that he spent 10 years in federal prison on drug trafficking charges before he got hired. I couldn't believe it! The guy I debated rap lyrics with daily was at one time an infamous drug dealer in my city. During his time as a dealer, he fled the country and was later nabbed by the feds in South America. Rob handled his transition well but noted he had occasional thoughts of going back to crime. At one time, Rob said he made upwards of $1000 in a DAY! I would not take it well If I made that kind of money only to get reduced to cleaning scuzzy parking decks for $600 every 2 weeks. Long story short, Rob left the hospital to get a CDL license and is now doing much better financially. I recently spoke to Rob, and he is still staying on the straight and narrow. His ultimate goal is to become involved with investing in stocks and real estate. His new job will give him a decent platform for building a better life.
For the most part, I would say that Rob's story has a happy ending. Rob went to prison, got out and found decent employment But, many felons don't get this lucky. These former offenders get released into a society that punishes them in perpetuity. How can a felon re-enter society when he or she can't find gainful employment? Your options are to either:
1) Take a blue-collar low-wage job.
2) Start a business.
3) Return to a life of crime.
If I were a person whose sole idea of entrepreneurship involves cocaine and a Glock, I would scoff in the face of anyone who told me to work at McDonald's. I am accustomed to smelling like Gucci, not McDoubles and fries.
If companies are going to brag about their "diversity," then that diversity needs to include felons. I see the most possibilities for convicts in tech. Skills such as coding could equip felons with tools that can help them freelance or find a job. The tech field is great because, for the most part, your value comes from what you can DO and less about school. I have heard stories of companies hiring students fresh out of college and some show up late and take their positions for granted. Most felons would not squander an excellent opportunity to build a new career and life. Some of us forget how privileged we are to be without a criminal record. Ex-cons get reminded of their blunders whenever they get that dreaded "we regret to inform you.." email after applying for jobs. Past mistakes should not relegate people to a perpetual second-class status. I believe If someone gives you a shot, you should to pay it forward by giving someone else a chance. Include felons along with all other groups involved in the diversity discussion.