I would like to say it’s hard to believe I’m a part of a group of people with a distinction that’s nothing to be proud of. It’s a label that will always be a part of who I am, and one that I’ve learned to accept and maybe even embrace. That label? I’m a part of the eight percent in this country that is a convicted felon. The truth is, from a young child I was headed in this direction. Before sharing how I became a part of that eight percent, let me share my back story.
When I was young, I recall stealing here and there. I vividly remember many instances of reaching for things that weren’t my own.
Looking back, I was a troubled child; I had so much, but so little. I had parents who wanted me, yet both lived in separate countries and had lives that didn’t include me. I was ten when my father arranged for me to come and live with him in America. By then, neglect, sadness and the need to be loved and acknowledged became part of my psyche. I was a child that had dual feelings. In one instance, I felt lucky to leave behind poverty that was my young life. In another instance, I felt neglected. At such a young age, I hadn’t lived the life of a normal ten-year-old.
Advance forward a decade and I, as a young adult, was a product of a broken home. My father remarried and his new wife was not ideal in that she didn’t want a step-child, she wanted her children and while she didn’t use the words, “I don’t want you,” Her actions spoke volumes.
In spite of my upbringing, I managed to successfully create an independent life. I found my first job, moved on my own, and struggle the same way most twenty-year-olds do. It never occurred to me as a young adult that I had buried residual feelings of a misbegotten youth. I don’t think in my twenties I cared.
Looking back, so many things were abnormal in my young life. I wish I was insightful enough to realize it, to connect the dots, to know that my actions as a young child, and as a young adult were connected. It’s hard even today to admit that I felt unwanted, unloved and in desperate need of acceptance.
My journey has been long and arduous, filled with life lessons that were painful to learn. That journey has brought me through the ebb and flow of my life. Today, I am a stronger, more grounded person because of my mistakes, and because of good decisions such as the one I made to reach out to someone. To talk about my past with someone who is an objective, non-judgmental listener and able to create the comfort level needed to allow me to reach deep within to open up about what I truly felt.
So, here is how I became a convicted felon. As I mentioned above, when I was growing up, taking things that weren’t my own was my way of life. However, it’s one thing for a family member to talk to my mom about something I took that didn’t belong to me. Or, to be in high school and helping myself to other student’s belongings. It’s another to be an adult and steal regardless of my frame of mind. Almost seven years ago, I reached the lowest point I believe I could ever reach; I was in a dark place. My life felt as if it was upside down and thinking back, I was severely depressed even though I did realize it at the time.
I can’t speak for anyone, but for me, my depression led me to feel as if nothing matters. I felt desolate, overwhelmed as if nothing is right in my life.
It was this feeling of having lost control that led me to steal from the company that employed me. My action then, and the end-result, created a turning point in my life. At first, negative, because my actions, and the end-result, led me to believe I no longer had a future, much less the freedom that most of us take for granted. It took a while to realize that this was my bottom, this was my turning point.
Thirty days in prison, followed by court dates upon court dates, and endless hours with my therapist, I was finally able to forgive myself and move on with my life.
I’ve had to tell myself over and over that my actions then doesn’t define me. I’ve had to look internally and hold on to that part of me that I know is good, and not the person I was as a child and for a while, an adult. While today I can say I am in a better place, and I know I will never be that person again, I still feel the ripples of my past.
Before my actions caught up with me, I was in a good place with my career or should I say my work history was exemplary. Today, my work history is still great, because other than the thirty days I spent in jail, I never stopped working. Then, I was just so happy to be doing something productive, to be one of the many who contribute to society and not take away from it. It didn’t matter to me then that I wasn’t doing the kind of work I had the experience and skills to do.
It’s taken me all this time to tell myself that it’s okay to want to do work that I am experienced at doing and was happy to do. However, this is where the rippling effect comes in. These days almost all employers want to do a background check before hiring an employee. I can’t put my past in a box and lock it away. Every opportunity I’ve applied for, I’ve been honest and I tell them it’s okay to do a background check on me, or I share my past outright. In almost all instances, if I am preliminarily hired, the offer is rescinded by the time they confirm my background.
This is where my strength comes in. I know I committed the crime, I know penance is a part of my life. Sometimes, I wonder, will there ever come a time when it’s truly in my past?
So yes, I am a part of that eight percent. I am a convicted felon. I'm also a daughter, a sister, a friend, and so, so much more. As much as my past will never change, I am determined to live my life, not denying my past, but not looking back either. Maybe my prospective employers are not happy with what they read about me, but sooner or later, I will find a few who will want to give the new me another chance to shine.