Debt to Society

These could be Jesus' hands...

One very misunderstood part of society today is the justice system, especially how the conviction and prosecution part works. If people were better versed at the impact of convictions, America would fight for change.

The following is a true story. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Mr. Bob stole some money. More specifically, he stole $250 in increments of $50 over the course of two weeks, because a work-related injury kept him out of work, and out of pay, for 4 days. He stole the money because he knew he couldn’t pay the rent any other way, and he even planned to slowly pay it back when his money straightened out.

Well, Big Store USA decided to wait until Mr. Bob stole more than $200, because fighting a court case for a misdemeanor is too expensive. Mr. Bob was convicted, serving 6 months in prison, and six months probation. His family lost the house he had worked so hard to keep, his mother that he was taking care of was practically forced into a nursing home on government money because she was living with them, and Mr. Bob’s wife left him because she couldn’t admit to herself or her friends that her husband is a criminal.

At the end of the six months, Mr. Bob was released with high hopes. He would have to find another job, but lots of places were hiring. He moved into his brother’s house, under the condition that he pay a little rent and promise not to stay too long, because his wife was expecting a baby. And please, please don’t tell her you were in prison, he stressed, she thinks that everyone in prison is violent.

So Mr. Bob put in a few applications. He had a lot of trouble filling in the felony conviction part. Time after time he left it blank and tried to explain the circumstances to the interviewer. Three weeks later, every application was rejected due to his conviction.

Mr. Bob had made a few friends in prison. They were all rough around the edges, but generally good people. He ran into a fellow, Bruce, that he particularly cared for. They met up over coffee and he explained his woes to Bruce. Bruce suggested that he try selling weed.  Mr. Bob resisted, but the promises of prosperity were tempting. And he knew he would be extra careful, and unlikely to be targeted as a dealer, so he accepted the proposition.

Nine months later, Mr. Bob was staring at the inside of a jail cell. He had been caught by his brother’s wife, and she called the police on him. He was given a much harder sentence, 10 years, because of his previous felony. Mr. Bob regretted what he had done, but regretted more that he had just convinced a real job to hire him, since his background was clean before his first conviction.

What happened to our friend Mr. Bob is all too common nowadays. Once a person has fallen into a criminal lifestyle, it’s impossible to get ahead again. When you get a felony, you lose a lot of rights, and most of them make sense- no gun, no voting, etc. But the other part of getting a felony is the hardest to live with; with a felony, you lose the ability to carry most trade licenses regardless of how petty or well-intentioned your crime was. You also can’t live in a lot of apartment complexes and neighborhoods, no matter how much you can afford to pay. There is always some red tape when you apply for any job- you can be honest and risk an automatic rejection, or you can be dishonest and risk being caught for the lie later.  

I’m proposing to you, America, that a person who has served their time and has no history of crime or of violence should be given a reprieve. A crime does not make a person a criminal.- society does that by barring them from living a life without dishonesty. 70% of people who are incarcerated end up going back. People like to claim that it’s because they are a “criminal type” and cannot control their law-breaking behavior, but the actuality of it is that people are not born criminals. Some of those “criminals” committed crimes for their own greater good. Some people become prostitutes so they can feed their babies, or drug dealers so they can escape a poverty-ridden childhood. Some may steal because they lack the good education needed to maintain a job. Some become drug addicts because they are treating an underlying mental disorder. Most people are not intentionally trying to hurt someone else to help themselves. Then we label them as life-long criminals and they never get that hand-up back into society to become a contributing member, which puts them back in the vicious ring of crime to survive.

A person only needs to commit a crime one time to destroy his life forever. It took Mr. Bob two weeks to do it. I’ve seen it happen in a few seconds. We don’t always know what their motives are. One thing’s for sure, however- these “criminals” were once welcome members of society, normal people that you smile to on the street, or hold the door open for at the store. And when they come out of prison, the debt should be paid and they should become normal members of society, not terrible people to be afraid of. These “criminals” should then be relabeled as mothers and fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, and friends, because that’s who they really are.

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