Posted by: CeCe | February 7, 2012

Believing in second chances

Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about second chances.  I’ve noticed that felony charges and having a less than stellar past often condemn a person long-term, so they can’t make amends and claw their way up from the bottom even when they want to, like my friends do.  And what’s worse, felons often find that not only can they not make an honest living because no business wants to hire a felon, they can’t even get jobs under the table because many people are reticent to hire them due to their past.

Some may say, well, that’s what they get, maybe they should be law-abiding citizens like everyone else who doesn’t have a criminal record.  And to those people I say, who do you think you are?!  What if you were held accountable for every single mistake you’d ever made, forever?  So if you’ve ever told a lie, what if no one would ever believe a word out of your mouth ever again?  What if you had stolen a pack of gum when you were six, and no one would ever trust you to have a job or even enter a store because of it?  What if you had gotten into a fight in school, and some over-zealous judge had slapped you with a felony assault charge that you could never have expunged, even once you turned eighteen?  What if you were judged for every single thing you ever did wrong, and you could never have a second chance to make things right?  Can you imagine that?  If you’ve just imagined it, congratulations, you now know what it’s like to be a felon.

Look, I know that there are criminals out there who aren’t willing to make changes, who couldn’t care less about being productive members of society.  But there are also many who are willing, and who do care, who are never given that chance. And that’s where we’re faced with a quandary, aren’t we?  Do we allow them a second chance and open ourselves up to the potential of becoming victims, or do we promote an indifferent and merciless society?  Or is there a balance to be struck between the two?

Well, I don’t know whether there is a balance between the two or not.  What I do know is that the way the system is currently set up is not conducive to the possibility of true rehabilitation.  People who commit crimes and are charged with felonies get out of prison, only to find that they are still in prison, even if the nature of the walls have changed.  Instead of bars made of metal and walls of concrete, they find that the bars are made of people who tell them no, and the walls keep them out of living an honest and ordinary life.  Oh sure, some of them can have their records expunged depending on the nature of the crime, but that’s years away (at least three, depending on the state and what the felony is for).  What are they supposed to do in the meantime?  It’s all too easy to go right back to a life of crime at that point; it would be so easy to go into selling crack and making hundreds if not thousands a day, especially when even fast food places don’t hire convicted felons.  So what happens is, they turn or return to crime, they get caught, and they’re right back where they started, or in an even worse position.  So then they get out of prison (again), and find that, once again, there are bars and walls which they cannot see beyond.  Then maybe they turn back to crime yet again, because it’s so easy, but maybe when they’re caught this time, it’s for something even worse, and they’re sentenced to life in prison, or maybe it even kills them.  And who has their blood on their hands?

Yes, some crimes are severe enough to justify not forgiving them and allowing them to move on, such as sexual crimes and murder.  But what about the guy who gets in with a bad crowd, and winds up robbing a bank, goes to prison, serves his time and attempts to better himself while he’s in (for example, going back to school), gets out, and has nothing to do with his old friends, who then finds that no one will hire him because of his record?  What about the woman who winds up addicted to heroin, who is convicted for prostitution (which she engages in to support her habit), who attends rehabilitation to get clean while she’s in prison, gets out, and finds that  being convicted of prostitution prevents her from getting a job?  So each of them are living in homeless shelters or halfway houses while they’re trying to get on their feet (because their friends and family members all abandoned them), and they keep getting kicked and keep getting kicked, and their criminal friends say hey, come sell crack, or hey, come sell yourself on this corner, and wouldn’t it be so easy for them to say yes?

As I’ve said, I don’t know the answer.  But I do know that I believe in second chances, and I believe that some convicted felons should have one.  Do you?

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