A Criminal Record Is Never Forgiven

My daughter will pay all her life.

Photo by Fa Barboza on Unsplash

My daughter is a recovering drug addict. She’s been sober for over two years now. But apparently, she is to suffer for the rest of her life, along with her children. Indirectly her dad and I will suffer, too.
Because it is unlikely she will ever be able to have a career that pays enough for her to earn a living. The only way for a woman in her situation to live in this screwed-up country is to find someone else to support her. She will need to become someone’s dependent. Because there is no opportunity available to her right now. It makes me feel bitter and overwhelmed with the injustice of it all, but it is true.
Her dad and I, and all our family, went through hell during her 7 years of active drug addiction. There were first narcotic pain pills, then any opiate, including heroin. Then she used methamphetamine when opiates got too expensive, and she became so messed up she could no longer hustle enough money to support her pill or even her heroin habit.

…Her life is pretty much ruined.

My daughter, yes, the recovering addict, is one of the most gentle and kind people I know. Anyone who knows her would say the same. But her life is pretty much ruined because of our outdated and ridiculously punitive criminal justice system. Our arcane and unfair record system will keep her forever on the edge of society looking in, while never able to fully join.
It makes me so sad. And it makes me mad as hell, too.
I know our story is one shared by millions who have family members who recovered from drug addiction, sobered up, worked on themselves harder than many of us non-felons ever will, and faced all their responsibility. But they are crippled by their records. They might as well be dragging a ball and chain around both ankles.
There is something wrong with the fact that because my daughter had pills, for which she did not have a prescription, and was in a house raided by police where drugs were found, she will never be able to get a decent job, visit Canada or several other countries, or vote in her home state. She also cashed two checks given to her for work at a woman’s house. It turned out the woman had stolen the checks from her employer. Because she had already had a record for drug charges, my daughter got two forgery counts for that, although it was not her fault, and she had no idea the checks were stolen. Another time, deep in her addiction, she was crashed in the back seat of a car driven by a man who had drugs on him. Not that she was innocent. It was at the worst of her addiction, and she would get in the car with strangers and do all kinds of horrible things I don’t even want to think about, just to get her drugs. The police arrested her, even though she had no drugs in her possession. She was in jail for the third time.

I’m not defending her crimes…

I’m not defending her crimes or complaining that she was punished — which included jail and fines. She was guilty, if not of the exact charges, of seeking and using drugs any way she could.
She wasn’t an evil person who enjoyed committing these criminal acts or getting in these situations. But she was a very sick person, a desperate person, a person who didn’t know how to change anything and only knew that if she didn’t get her drugs, she would be horribly sick, on the streets, without even a place to lie down. She knew what happened to her when she got drug sick, and no one would willingly go through that if it could be avoided, even if it meant hustling more illegal drugs.
She was a very addicted and very hopeless young woman. She had lost everything she cared about because of her addiction. It had robbed her — and it started because, for some reason, a doctor in good standing thought he should keep giving her pain pills because she was an emergency medical technician. She had been injured while working, but she was determined not to let the injury keep her from the job she loved so much. She was good in emergencies and gifted in getting people to relax and trust her abilities. She could drive an ambulance through rush hour traffic in our state’s biggest city and stay cool as a cucumber while doing it. She planned to become a paramedic.

He gave her pain pills.

But she got pretty severely hurt while lifting a stretcher and not doing it just so but doing it fast trying to get someone to life-saving help. And she had to go see a doctor. He gave her pain pills so she could keep working. Working with that injury made it much worse, so more pain pills were prescribed. Eventually, she was so bad she was sneaking pain medicine off the ambulance and was, of course, fired for it.
She wasn’t a drug dealer profiting from others’ addiction. She was just a miserable, pitiful addict, sleeping in unlocked cars in parking garages trying not to starve to death, eating leftover food thrown away by fast food outlets, and teaming up with a male addict, so she had some protection. Female addicts on the street are one of the most victimized classes in our society. Everyone in the criminal circles does whatever they want to them. They are indeed at the bottom of the illegal order.

She drew strength for her own sobriety.

And now, she’s sober. Yes, jail helped her get sober, and she’s grateful she was put there because she couldn’t stop on her own. In prison, she got Bible classes that helped her find strength. By seeing the other, much older, addicts incarcerated for very long sentences, she drew strength for her own sobriety.
She was elated upon her release from prison. But she found there was no place for her “outside,” as inmates call it. No one was going to hire a woman with both drug and financial crimes. She couldn’t even get a job at a carwash or a dishwashing job. One potential employer talked to her for almost an hour and was very impressed with her. She’s a smart and capable woman who presents herself well. But at the end of the interview, and after he said he wanted to hire her, he asked, “of course, I’m sure you don’t have any past felonies and can pass our background check.” No, she said honestly, she couldn’t. She explained and told him what he would find, hoping against hope that he’d still give her the job. It was a job washing cars.
“Nope, sorry,” he said, can’t hire anyone with a criminal offense on their record.
See, in our society, we need people who have never made mistakes or suffered any mental illness or addiction to wash our cars and do the dishwashing. We need people with perfect records to scrub floors. We insist that people who work in factories with no access to money or valuables have squeaky clean records. And of the people willing to do these menial labor jobs, few have spotless records.

She has no privacy.

Even banks and insurance companies she used and the people she had a B&B account with ran her record to see everything about her past. Not only is she crippled by that record, but she has no privacy and usually no opportunity to explain. Anyone who wants can find out her crimes — even unsavory characters who run businesses with less than legal employment or customer practices.
She does odd jobs for friends and acquaintances as much as she can. She had a job last summer washing and detailing cars for a vehicle repair shop. But someone else wanted that job this summer, so she can’t even have that job.
She can’t work at a state park cleaning bathrooms…because she has a record. The last crime she was charged with was over three years ago, and at her young age, that’s a long time ago.

I don’t know how she stays sober.

She has her son back and gets to see her daughter, but must live with him and visit with her in our home because she cannot find a job to support them. Often she has no money at all — but she stays sober. As hopeless as her outlook is, I don’t know how she does it. I’m not sure I wouldn’t give up.
She does housework and tries every way possible to earn her keep here at home. She has a truck with over 200,000 miles on it. But she keeps it clean and running and finds odd jobs when she can to buy parts for it. She gets an occasional part-time gig carrying wood cut up by a tree service. It’s back-breaking. But she’s happy when she gets to do it.
First, drugs ruined her life. Now, the price and punishment she suffered for being addicted to drugs continue to ruin her life and feed a never-ending heartbreak.
We say that people who commit crimes have paid for it when they’ve served their sentences. But it isn’t true. They must keep paying and suffering their consequences for the rest of their lives.

They continue to be heartlessly punished as long as they live.

When will we address this grossly unfair system where no matter how well people do after they have served their time, they will continue to be heartlessly punished as long as they live.
They will never be able to travel abroad. They will never be able to become any kind of professional. Even if all their offenses were non-violent and hurt them more than anyone else, they won’t even be allowed to take the tests to certify for adequately paid professions.
The legislature needs to act to change this. It is directly related to the too-high recidivism rates. In fact, given the treatment of these former offenders, it’s surprising any of them ever make it to becoming productive members of society when they are constantly hit by roadblocks at every turn. There comes a time when many of these forever-persecuted people may just give up and decide there’s no use in being a good citizen when they will never be given a citizen’s privileges.
Although my daughter is supposedly wholly free. Out of jail, through with a strict parole program, sober for over two years, and full of desire to work and contribute to the society that shuns her, my fear is that someday she will give up and drugs will be a way out of the dismal and hopeless place she’s found herself.

Please help…

Please help in any way possible to change this situation to create a chance for a good life after once-convicts reform themselves. I’m not asking that we give rapists and murderers all the benefits of any other citizen. But I’m asking that we give non-violent offenders a chance to get their lives back or make a life for themselves in the case of the very young ones. Under the current situation, it is almost impossible for them.

Former print journalist, former mayor, retired law enforcement officer. Writing about politics and government along with random personal essays.

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