Source: 65 Million Need Not Apply: The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment by Michelle Rodriguez and Maurice Emsellem for National Employment Law Project (2011), available at http://www.nelp.org/publication/65-million-need-not-apply-the-case-for-reforming-criminal-background-checks-for-employment/
Crystal, Community Outreach Coordinator
Six years ago I was just transitioning out of prison. I was just trying to get my feet back on the ground. I was going to school to be a dental assistant, working three jobs, living with my grandparents.
It was overwhelming. Trying foods that I hadn’t eaten in years. Being able to hug somebody as many times as I wanted to. Knowing I wasn’t alone. I really felt like I was just starting. I’d always been accountable to someone else or there’d been someone else taking care of me. It was scary in a sense because I knew it was up to me. I had to be accountable to myself. There was no excuse anymore. It’s not the drugs. It’s not, “Oh I’m in prison.” Or, “It’s my family’s fault.” There was no excuse anymore. I’m accountable to myself. I’m an adult.
My rock bottom was when it hit me that I was doing 7 1/2 years for three felonies. That’s 90 months. That’s… I’m getting out at 27. I was a heroin addict. An addict in the all-around sense. I had left home by the time I was 13, and started using drugs and eventually heroin. By 19 I had been in abusive relationships and continued to use drugs to numb myself. Before I knew it I was sitting in prison.
At one point I just decided I can’t do this. I can’t be around these negative people because we are a product of our own environment. So I wrote a letter to say that I want to do different. I was asking for help for the first time in my life, being completely honest with the prison superintendent. He sat down and asked me why. And I explained to him I didn’t know what else to do I needed help and this is the only way I knew I could help myself was to ask for it. That was my second chance. In prison.
Felons, we have this “we never succeed” or “we’re going to fail” or “no one gives us a chance” attitude. I really had to sit back and look at myself and say, do I want to continue living a life of lies or be honest when I have an opportunity to learn and grow?
It’s still scary sometimes. I work to let go of the fear by doing yoga. Living Yoga is what saved my life, I feel, in prison. Yoga has reminded me that I’m human. That I can love, I can cry, I can laugh, I can show joy. It reminds me to be grounded, to appreciate life.
And now here I am today. It’s pretty awesome today.
Asking for help, maybe for some, is a weakness. I know it is for me. I have that fear of being looked at. Of, I’m not smart enough, good enough, worthy enough, all those things that come with fear. I encourage people to ask for help, to make the next right decision/choice.
Drew, Distribution Manager
It took a lot for me to decide to tell my story. I'm used to separating my past from my work. But I think I have more to offer, that there's a reason I went through all this. Maybe it’s somebody else's chance, maybe my story can help them.
When you're little, you're supposed to learn values and you're supposed to learn morals, what's right, what's wrong, what’s normal. When you wake up every day of your life and you see your parents using drugs, in your eyes that's normal.
In sixth grade I started realizing that things weren’t okay at home. I started asking questions, “Why do you do that?” or “What’s that?” I wanted to be the better person and maybe change things. But when your parents are stubborn…you can't change the way somebody is, especially if they've been like that for a long time.
So I left. I chose to live on the streets versus home. I was 13 years old. Move out on the streets, and people are doing drugs. So you think, well, maybe this is how things are supposed to function. I started coming into the drug scene and it just went out of control. Those years, it was out of one situation, into a worse situation, into an even worse situation. Of course I dropped out of school. It was too much responsibility with everything else that was going on.
When I was 18, my so-called friend and I committed burglary. A few hours later, the police were at our door. We tried to run but we didn't get very far. I was scared to death.
After numerous violations of my probationary terms for refusing to do community service (working for free just didn't appeal to me, I guess) the judge agreed to reduce my violations provided I went to Forest Camp. It was like camping. We'd go out to the woods and build trails. I loved it. Being out there with people who have been through what I had, I honestly believe that is the one thing that changed the way I thought about things and the first sign of hope.
Now it was time to do something right. I wanted to just be normal, to be better than what I used to be, better than I saw the best to be. I was introduced to a steel foundry for work. I interviewed well and they didn't check backgrounds, so I was fortunate to get in. I started out as a helper – a lot of hard work and doing the right thing – and then I was gifted an apprenticeship. This was the first time I ever felt so called “normal.” I went from helper to lead journeyman molder.
One of my bosses told me, “You need to look at food industry as a career. People always need to eat,” he said. Well, I loved Dave's Killer Bread, and saw an opening. I had to work here. It was my goal. So I did everything I could to get hired.
Now at Dave’s, I am a distribution manager with about 20 people on my team. When I get an applicant who has had some trouble in the past, I have the opportunity to look at it in a different view. Just to know people here have been through something that you’ve been through is enough to give you strength. I have an opportunity to give them a chance, and the ability to give time, respect and understanding to help them through.
That's really what I needed. Time, respect, understanding. That's something I never got. If I’d had Dave's in the beginning, maybe things would've been different. Maybe I would have started on the right path earlier.
Melissa, Production Supervisor
I grew up in a home with drug use. So as far as learning how to handle life, that was my example. When I was 19, I went through some trauma and I didn't have any coping skills. I started drinking and then moved to meth. That kind of took over my life for 10…15 years.
I always had some sort of job, but I didn't get along with people. I had no humility. I was always right. My grandparents were gone, I still had family members that were using. And my dad, I didn't go around him, because I wasn't doing good things and I wanted him to be proud.
I kept working. And I used the entire time. I got my first felony, for possession. At that point I was working nights, unloading trucks and stocking shelves. I had to keep that job because I'm a convicted felon, and how am I going to find another job? Then they changed our hours and I had a hard time adjusting. I was late all of the time and I got terminated. At that point, my life spiraled.
I was with my sister and my nephew lived there, and I was using at the house. They said they were going to charge me with endangering the welfare of a minor. That devastated me. I've always loved children and thought that I was a kind, caring, loving person. Something clicked in my head -- I am abusing other people, doing exactly what was done to me. That's not who I wanted to be.
But I just wouldn’t stop using. Finally, I called my dad and I said, “Dad, I need to stay with you for three days so I can get clean.” He allowed me to do that and that was a big deal.
It was time to start looking for a job and Dave's Killer Bread is where I had my heart set. I remember hearing about Dave when he was just out of prison, that he was doing something different with his life, reading the story on the bag, and knowing that he hired felons.
So I did everything I needed to do with the employment office and finally one day I got a call that I could come here. I was very excited. I was just 60 days clean and hadn't worked in a year and a half. I cried on my first day, but I loved it.
I was a good employee, but I didn't have a good foundation or a good plan for not using. I was still hanging out with people that used. I came to work one day after I had spent my entire weekend using and it was obvious. I was terminated. It was devastating. I was given the option to come back in a year if I cleaned up and could prove I had done some different stuff.
I managed to put some clean time together. I kept going to meetings. I kept reaching out to people. I thought about how I left Dave's, embarrassed. I felt very undeserving of the opportunity. But I was reminded that this is a second chance place. When I applied to come back I had to speak to the supervisor, the one who had done the termination. She wanted to know what was different and why I should have the opportunity. I told her I had spent some time really working on myself; I had some time to get humble.
They gave a call to come back to work. I showed up every day and my attitude was good. I remember making a conscious decision, no matter what anyone asks of you just say “okay,” and I did that, no matter what. I was thinking about making my dad proud, I was thinking about making myself proud.
It's amazing how much compassion I have. Being patient, being kind, just making the choice to have a good day, coming to work with a positive attitude, and then allowing that to be infectious for other people. I never thought of myself as any of those. And now here I am doing those things.
Rahsaan, Assistant Supervisor
First real job I’ve ever had. First everything, man. My priorities are so different now.
I went in when I was 25-26. I had made bad decisions. They weren't accidents. They were conscious decisions and I had to pay my consequences.
When you get faced with 15 years, your whole life flashes before your eyes. You hear your sentence, you do the math, and you’re like, “Man, it's over.”
But I was lucky. I had strong support. My wife stuck by me the whole time. I had three young kids and I knew I didn't have the time to waste. So everything I did in prison -- saving money, getting schooling, having a job inside -- was for when I got home.
While I was inside, I kept myself current. I stayed on the phone with my kids. I tried to stay in the now with my wife during visits. But coming home, it was so hard. I want to say now that it's over that it was easy, but it was the hardest time for me. I had been gone 12 and ½ years. My wife, she’s a champ. She made it look so good when I was inside. When I got out I was able to see how hard she was struggling. I saw I needed to put school on hold and get a job.
I started at a fencing company making $11 dollars an hour. A lot of people were like, “Damn that's good,” but I knew what I was worth. I knew I could do better. Then an opportunity opened up here at Dave's and I got the job.
It's a blessing to be working with Dave’s. It feels good to finally be in a position where your work and your attitude speaks for itself; it’s not about your past. I don't want to go back to when I was making bad choices. At Dave’s, the way I've changed is really being seen. It’s humbled me, knowing that my work just speaks for itself.
My daughters are 13 and 15 and my 18 year-old son is in college. They rely on me. They need to have a strong man in their lives. They need to see someone who is supporting their mother, someone that is a provider, someone who can give them sound discipline, someone who they can look at as an example.
My life now? It's beautiful. Things that some people consider normal, to me they are cherished. To be able to go to my daughter’s track meets for the first time and be a supporting parent. To hear her talk on the phone and say, “My dad is going to be there,” and to see the joy on her face. It brings a light to my life that is unexplainable.
Because of this job, I can provide for my family, with extra to spare. Man, it feels good to say that.
Mark, Café Cook
I’ve been clean eight years. I guess my treatment program was the last 6 years in federal prison.
After 30 years of criminal activity I was finally arrested by the feds on numerous charges - bank robbery, weapons, methamphetamines - and sentenced to 75 months and basically toured the United States. Travelled 15,000 miles, ended up in New Jersey federal prison. You’re out of touch in the New Jersey federal prison. There are 5,000 people there. It’s a dangerous, crazy place, especially being, like, the only person from the West Coast. I had some touch-and-go moments of being alive I’ll say, you know what I mean?
Along the way, maybe I just woke up. It’s been a journey. When you’re in an 8x10 box in the middle of the night with just your thoughts you can see that something jumped the tracks somewhere. You know what I mean? At least for me. I was like, this went terribly wrong somewhere.
I’m working without a net. Lost a lot of people while I was in prison. My grandparents raised me. They’ve passed away and you know, they always… I think they’d be happy now. I hope they would. I feel pretty good. But I’ve had some tests recently. My dad passed away this summer, and my cousin a week and a half ago so my family is getting thin, real thin. My brother’s still in the drug world I think. He’s doing what he does. My uncle is still where I grew up, in Longview. I talk to him, but we’re not super close. He outlived his whole family. I didn’t know what to say except I’m sorry and I love you. How can anything I say ease that? Besides being successful. At least he can see that. He’s one person who’s seen that I’ve kept it together, done my best.
Dave’s (Killer Bread) has been the only thing there for me. I guess they saw something in me. I came here with nothing and nobody, and had to restart my life. I’ve had a lot of personal things unravel. This? This has been the only thing. The people here. They’ve basically been my family and friends. Financially, emotionally.
I work in the café. I take care of the employee’s food service – meals, snacks all that. I try to put a smile on everyone’s face every day. I’m self-appointed concierge or something. Because I was them. I know how it is. It’s kind of a culture shock especially for the people coming out of being incarcerated. It was for me. They’ve got a lot of, maybe, self-doubt. I know how it is even just for a regular normal person. I try to welcome everyone here.
A few kind words can make a whole day.
Heather, Line Lead/Trainer
I've been a musician all my life. I sing, I play guitar, I play keyboard. The people that I work with at Dave’s Killer Bread, we’re like a family. A couple kids here can play guitar phenomenally so now a lot of us play during lunch, before work or after work, which really helps.
If I hadn't gotten the job at Dave's Killer Bread I probably wouldn’t have made it. The people that I work with, that are in recovery like me, we're helping each other feel encouraged and capable and tall. Because of this job I'm alive. It's pretty profound.
The disease of addiction had complete control over me. My drug use brought me to all kinds of places: jails, institutions and death. I had almost eight years clean when I relapsed. Someone found me in the parking lot of a doughnut shop. I had been out for six hours and they had to Life Flight me to save my life. I don't remember that part. All I remember is being controlled by drugs. I remember something evil saying to me, “You're no good for this world, you're a horrible mom, you're a horrible wife. The world would be a better place without you.” And I believed it.
Then I died. I remember God being there with me and saying, “I'll accept you however you decide to be. But you know what? I don't think you're done yet. It's up to you. I'm ready with open arms, but will you regret not going back?”
Some days things are so hard I just want to quit. I think God had to remind me that he doesn’t doubt me, because I don’t always feel confident. Relapse is a process and it goes from thinking to feeling to acting. There's times where I've thought about it. And I’ve felt like doing it. But I know that I'm accountable and responsible and I have things to give the world. I remind myself exactly what I'm doing here: helping others grow and staying clean no matter what. It keeps me from making that wrong decision.
Small things mean so much more to me now. When I get home from work, and my husband and my puppies and me are chilling out together, to me that's a piece of heaven. That's what's important to me. A positive outlet versus negativity.
I'm bringing the music back. We are all instruments. If we can just try to make the music sound better the world will be a much better place. Instead of focusing on problems, I’m focusing on solutions.
Ashley, Mix Department
I’m a recovering meth addict. I grew up where drugs were present. My mother became a single mother of four. She worked full time and didn’t have much time to give us the discipline or structure we needed. I discovered drugs. I fit in, in that whole scene. I always felt like an outsider at school. I started using drugs, I stopped going to school, no one was there to steer me in the right path.
I battled with that addiction for years, ever since I was 16. It became the only thing that I knew. I just really couldn’t accomplish anything in my life because of that. I always had a job but it would soon end because of drugs. I didn’t have my high school diploma. And at that age that’s all you know and what you continue to go back to.
When I started to come clean it came out of complete desperation. I was homeless, I had nowhere to go and I didn’t see a way out, I really didn’t. And then when things eventually got bad enough my sisters offered to help me get into rehab and at that point I was ready, you know? That gave me the little hope that I needed. And so I attended a 90-day in-patient treatment where I set goals for myself and learned some of those coping skills I didn’t have, that I needed to be able to deal with life. I was committed at that point to changing my life.
When I got out of rehab, I had kind of burned my bridges. Even with my minimal criminal history, arrests and a couple of misdemeanors it was still hard to find a job. When I started my job (at Dave’s Killer Bread), I really enjoyed, coming in here. People remembered my name. They saw my work ethic, how hard I worked - that was noticed. It really gave me the confidence to start learning something new and start to accomplish my goals slowly but surely.
I’m attending college. I went back and got my GED after I started working here and I got it with honors. That was a really great feeling. So that enabled me to go back to school. Today I get to give back and share my hope and my strength with others struggling with the same battle that I fought. That’s really what keeps me going because I know there’s hope for a better life.
Elizabeth, Stock Specialist/Community Outreach
In and out, in and out, in and out.
I went to jail and then I'd get out and I'd start messing around and get in trouble again. I started acting out pretty young, sixth grade or so. It just kind of escalated from there. I had moments of being clean, but it was never real long periods of time. I think the longest period of time was a year.
I didn't want help. Addiction took over my soul. Everything I thought mattered, didn't -- not my family, not my kid, not my career, nothing.
It got to the point where I even began to hate my addiction. At that point, I hated everything. It was like, “What's left?” I was tired. I was just so tired. I asked to go to treatment and I sat in jail until there was a bed open. It was a rocky start but then I surrendered, got out of my own way. I had to learn how to deal with my emotions and acceptance. How to get over the anger I have and how to be honest again.
When I was re-entering the workplace, it was place after place. Either they accepted felons, but they weren't hiring anymore because they were fully staffed, or my background would come up. I had gone to college. I had experience. I had knowledge. It's that piece of paper that made it so hard. I remember not having the money to do the laundry; I was so mad.
Employment doors are huge for people. I mean, you can work on yourself, work on your relationships and make amends…you can do all the work you want. But if you can't survive, you're eventually going to do what you have to do to survive. And that takes you right back to ground zero.
When Dave’s Killer Bread called and offered me the job, I remember I hit my knees and I started crying. I went in being the only female in the Ovens Department. It's hot and the manual labor of pushing the racks, and running the depanner and throwing the bread…it's crazy. But I loved it. A job is like the foundation, I think that's what it boils down to. Dave’s creates a foundation that I can build all this other stuff on top of.
I went to the Second Chance Summit in Seattle this year. To see all these people come together to try to help people re-entering -- I get goosebumps thinking about it. It’s really, really important. I feel like as a society sometimes we've done more harm than good in this particular sense. But I'm hopeful because there's a chance that we can reverse the damage that we've done. I embrace hope. It's not about me, it's about everybody, you know?