Last week, on March 21st, four Oakland Police officers were killed in the line of duty. An ex-offender, 27 years old, had violated his parole and had a warrant out for his arrest. A routine traffic stop turned into a battle that ended with his death amongst the four officers noted. The mass memorial service for all four officers in Oakland was attended by the entire Oakland Police Department force along with over 20,000 members of the community and televised on almost every local station in the Bay Area on March 27th. This story truly struck a cord with many in uniform across the nation and with many community members in the Bay Area.
This story struck a personal cord with me, with family and friends on both ends.
It upset me that this young man had a chance to turn his life around after getting parole only to get killed going back to his offenses. I remembered how during my first year of being educated on providing counseling and job training, (ironically also in Oakland), I worked not only with the homeless community, but also with ex-offenders. More then I can count that year did I see ex-offenders get hired in positions they never thought they were even qualified for. Participating in many workshops and trainings throughout the years thereafter, I would almost always meet at least one individual who was an ex-offender that went from having a negative to a positive outlook on what they can achieve; and what an accomplishment they have become!
Below is what I have learned since that year on better helping ex-offenders in their job search as a start to their new rehabilitated life. Those who wanted to truly make those mistakes learning stones and a thing of the past by having a positive outlook on what they can achieve.
Action Plan for Ex-Offenders
If you think you can’t get a job because you are an ex-offender and/or out on parole, think again! The number one reason you may never break this barrier is because you simply don’t want too. Making the excuse that no one will hire you because you are an ex-offender isn’t the way to go. You must be willing, determined and have a positive approach to your job search. You need to develop an action plan on how to you’ll get back on your feet to walk the better paths.
First, you need to be fully aware of what your charges were and that there are no errors of any kind. The US Department of Labor notes that any “inaccurate information may give an unnecessarily negative profile of the individual.” This means that you don’t want to state in your applications and interviews that you were convicted of one offense and the employer does a background check only to find other offenses. You would lose the chance of being hired not because of your offense, but the pretense that you lied to them. So make sure you are all set there by getting a copy of your records and going through them with your attorney or assigned probation/parole officer.
When you have all that information set, you need to learn what kind of work you can actually hold. There are federal laws that prohibit and regulate that those with certain convictions of or involving dishonesty, breach of trust, money laundering or participation in a pretrial diversion program for those offenses cannot work in the financial industry in any position with access to money. For example, if you were convicted of theft, you can’t be a teller at a bank. Many states also have similar laws that detail specific industries an ex-offender may not work in depending on their convictions. For example, certain positions with such prohibitions tend to be in industries where those deemed “vulnerable” are directly involved. Such industries include childcare, education, security, nursing and home health care.
That may come off negative but you can’t simply expect to be given such a risky chance without willing to prove that you have changed, learned and can be of a major asset to the employer as well as society. Note though that an employer has the right and responsibility to determine the conviction in relation to the position to be filled. The factors an employer should put in considerations are:
- How long ago was the offense?
- How old were you when the offense took place?
- What was the nature and gravity of the conviction?
- What efforts have you made toward rehabilitation?
What can help you, especially with the last factor there, is if you have all your documents in order along with your resume such as any certifications you received as well as a recommendation letter from your assigned probation/parole officer. That takes us to the next step in your action plan. Depending on where you live (and funds available for these programs especially during these difficult economic times), there are many support groups, training programs, courses at local community colleges and even job fairs for ex-offenders. These types of information and resources your officer would almost always know about. Make sure to always be in touch with your officer and never, I mean NEVER, miss a meeting. Its when you can showcase to your officer your action plan and commitment to being a better person that they can be of a better support system to you!
Aside from the steps discussed in the Career Development Guidebook (and throughout this blog) there are extra steps to take to better overcome this barrier of being an ex-offender looking for work. You must always be confident that your conviction, aside from the laws stated above, doesn’t eliminate your chances of being a good candidate for the position you are applying for. Make sure before turning in your application and resume to the company, that you check with the employer if there are any specific convictions that can disqualify you from the position your applying for. This could be that they have certain policies complying with state laws or as mentioned above, what relation the conviction is to the position open. Be sure to note the person’s name and position in the company as this will be important in your application and interview.
When you fill out your application, under where it asks you of any felonies or convictions, BE HONEST! Don’t detail everything in your application! You can write something like, “Will be pleased to discuss during interview.” If someone told you that your conviction doesn’t disqualify you, make sure to add that note after your response, “conviction does not automatically disqualify according to name, job title.” I would also put your assigned officer’s name and number for a reference. This assures the employer that even before they interview you, that you have been making the efforts because your assigned officer is willing to give you a reference!
During the interview, the conviction without a doubt will come up as you noted that you’d be pleased to discuss it then. You do not need to detail everything that happened. You want to say something along the lines of, “When I spoke with name, the job title, I was very pleased that I would be seen for my experience and skills before my conviction. My conviction was _____. Since then, I have participated in a _____ program where I graduated and expanded on my skills in _____. Currently I utilize these skills by volunteering at _____ and hope to obtain this position where I can utilize these skills and learn new ones.” You want to highlight all the positives arising from your conviction. You don’t want to bad mouth anyone or put yourself on the defensive. This isn’t the place, the time or the person to be delving all that information too.
With your action plan, you should be able to break that barrier. Remember, you are confident because you are now a better person then the mistake you made. Be honest, be positive, be willing to ask for support and you will find yourself in a much better place then you were.
To learn more about available programs and support systems in your area, make sure to check the US Department of Labor’s Web site, be in contact with your assigned probation/parole officer and connect with your network. You can always send me an email with your question and expect a response!
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