It is 1:45 in the morning on a Wednesday. I spend countless hours peering through several articles and forums trying to find a way towards something better in my life, googling topic after topic just to find myself with more frustration at the end of every search I conduct.
"What professions can a felon pursue?"
"What are jobs a felon can't have?"
"Can a felon get a job as a _______?"
To make matters worse, I have a violent felony. A long, complicated string of events that I never meant to cause, rooting from a drunken mistake to let someone come over who I knew was nothing but trouble. Later, during probation and afterwards, I would find out from several medical professionals that my accused injury that I inflicted on this person could not have been caused by me, as it was downright impossible. My victim had a family member who was a judge in the same county that I ended up being prosecuted in. I had never been in trouble before. This was my first criminal offense. Assault, Second Degree, C-Class. Sentenced to five years of Suspended Execution of Sentence Probation with a seven year prison backup sentence. My felony would not be removed from my record after successful completion. To make matters worse, my state does not allow for the expunging of violent offenses.
For as long as I live, this will always be there to get in the way of me finding a job that isn't something that anyone can do.
I was nineteen at the time my offense occurred. The judge told me "I'm not doing this because I felt you had the intention of doing it, but because you were reckless..."
Reckless? I cooperated with the detectives. I told them everything that had happened. I didn't ask for a lawyer. I didn't deny my actions. I did nothing but apologize afterwards. I wrote a statement laying out everything that happened on this night. I thought I was doing the right thing by being honest. I even had the messages from my "victim" saying things like "No matter where you are, I will always miss you," and "Will I ever see you again?"
I was accused of lacerating my victim's bladder during sex. Hits like a freight train, right? Sounds like a sex offense, right? I'll give credit where it's due—I'm beyond thankful not to be on a registry. The focus was placed on the injury itself, but not the sexual encounter that was tied to it.
While I counted my blessings for not being a sex offender, I did have to attend group therapy sessions with other sex offenders in my area. Did I cringe at their stories? I almost jumped across the room hearing about a man who molested his nine-year-old daughter on multiple occasions. Attending these sessions was far from easy. For four painstaking years, I heard and watched the wretches of humanity talk for an hour and a half and then go back to the real world. My stomach turned knowing that there were rapists that only served four years in prison with a year of parole left to go.
I did meet the innocents among the wretched, though. For my entire time I attended group, I sat next to a man who didn't even know that the pornography he had downloaded was child pornography. The victims were 16 years old and he didn't have a clue. He was just trying to watch porn on a website and now he has to report to the Sheriff's department every 90 days to update the registry.
In my state, there is an option to hold onto a prisoner for an indefinite amount of time because they deem the person a threat to society. The man was the first person in state history to get out of this unit and go back into the real world. I don't remember the man's story to the full extent, but I do remember that it didn't seem any worse than any other story I had heard in group, and there were seats in the group that should have been in the unit more than he should have been. The "Predator" House. The man swore he would never go back. A few honest mistakes later, he was told he would be going back to the predator house for good. Not two days after he was in transit back to the predator house, he killed himself in one of the diagnostic camps. He swore he would never go back, and he held true to that promise.
Some of the more positive things from probation include having made some of the best friends I have ever made in my life. Before having to attend group and beginning a stricter probation out of stipulation and not of doing more wrong, I remember working at a fast food place and sitting outside with a coworker and telling him my story as we smoked cigarettes. I cried by the end of telling that story. To this day, the man is still my best friend, and knows every bit of what happened.
To my surprise, telling people the honest rendition of why I have a felony has been 99 percent positive in their reactions. People understand that what happened that night is not something that I intended to do. It was a mistake that I never meant to cause. I feared being viewed as a sexual predator even though my offense was considered violent. Instead, I had an overwhelming consensus of "That's shitty. I feel like that could happen to anyone."
Things started looking up, even with the polygraphs during probation and being in a group therapy that I was the odd man out for.
It's been almost a year since I was released from my probation. I was released a year early because I hadn't done anything wrong during my term. A few slight hiccups along the way, but nothing worth sending me to prison over.
I remember thinking, As soon as it's over, I'll be happy. The felony can stick, but I just want the weight of probation off my shoulders.
I had already spent time during probation working on my education, watching educational youtube videos, sharpening my math skills, figuring out what interested me. I did all the things that should have happened before I got my felony. I didn't know what I wanted to do back then. I wasn't ready to take on the world. Now I feel like I could take on the world. I learned I don't have a problem learning how to do... just about anything. Sure, I was told I was smart growing up, but I believed that was something almost every kid got told by their parents. But I really did figure out that I had the ability to learn almost anything and retain it.
The biggest issue right now is that everyone does a background check. Nobody wants to hire a felon. Sure, I could get a job at McDonald's, but I can never go into management. Let that sink in. Having all the necessary skills to be a manager at McDonald's, but because of one word on a background check, you are marked with a red light. You can dip and weave around the internet and find out that, sure, if you can find a blue collar place that is hiring people with no experience, you can get the job. But most places want experience.
This translates into college, as well. Imagine taking out a massive amount of student loans only to be told that your degree is useless because you are deemed a possible threat to others in a company. Even if what you did was accidental. This makes looking into college degrees terrifying. What if you get that Bachelor's degree and no one hires you? How are you going to pay back that debt AND start a family AND put up enough money to buy a house? Even if you somehow get a doctorate's and you can prove, without a doubt, you are THE person that knows their stuff, what good is this massive degree if it is outweighed by mistakes you made as a young adult?
It's not about feeling entitled to something. I don't want to be entitled to anything but a chance to prove myself. I could go through the entire process of becoming a doctor, but I would never get a job as a doctor because, by default, I have broken the oath to never harm another person.
The worst feeling I have come to find through all my experiences is the feeling that I have done my time, but because of the world I live in, I will always be serving time. Being able to intellectually handle any material is a wonderful thing to strive for, but having that and being limited virtually entirely as to what you are allowed to do can be almost heartbreaking.
Maybe I'm egotistical and see myself as being capable of more than I can actually do, but the issue is, even if I am right, the world will never know.
So my message to you is this: Don't let your sore judgment get the better of you. Stick to your gut and don't make decisions that you have a feeling will bite you in the ass later. Most importantly, don't let yourself realize what you are capable of giving to the world, when it is already too late for you to give anything to the world. You are smart, you are creative, and you CAN do anything you set your mind to. Just don't ever give up on yourself.