Surviving Felony Background Obstacles

Life After a Felony Conviction

So, if you’re like me, and have a felony conviction on your criminal record, you’re probably noticing (or have already noticed) that employers are not as willing to see you for interviews and work with you for chances at holding decent jobs. Half the time you can almost watch them as they review the application, see a note about your record and promptly mentally chuck it into the trash can. (Thankfully some states have made progress in this arena – read about Ban the Box here)

If you’re not dealing with a criminal background and not worried about background checks coming up against your favor – you might think that the outright denials of these opportunities could be a ‘good’ thing.

The millions of people with a conviction on their record – including myself and numerous post justice professionals in the background business – don’t agree. While having a record might indicate there has been trouble – that doesn’t mean felons/prisoners/convicts should be totally ostracized from society. One in four people have some sort of criminal background, so there’s a good chance you know a friendly felon or two yourself.

From the hundreds of entry-level job applications that are denied to the incredible difficulty in finding a reentry friendly place to live (especially in transitional periods) – the options to gain access to basic resources and necessities can quickly dwindle to nearly nothing after a conviction.

Simply put – a criminal background can be a real *itch.

Now I understand the idea of punishment, but not being allowed to live a normal life isn’t working either. The official rates of recidivism and institutionalization are absolutely insane.

5 out of 6 state prisoners in a study by the BOP were arrested within nine years of release. That’s INSANE.

This just communicates to us that this system is not working as intended. Sure, private prisons profit nicely from the low-cost labor (unethically according to many opinions across the net) and some convicts can afford to pay their restitution fines in a fashion suitable to the courts favor, but the majority of these returning individuals are permanently affected by the outright denial of basic needs after release from their sentence. Changes must be made to help make this system something that can work. Until we make progress in that arena….

Felons Can Find Some Hope with Reentry Resources

However, there is a shred of hope for us convicted felons trying to build a new life, especially if you’re also like me and have been able to stay out of trouble with the court system for a few years. If you have managed to stay out of trouble (and didn’t leave a negative impression with the local judges), you might have a chance at earning something called a Certificate of Good Conduct in your state. This is one of many things I’ve found in my time researching, and it is one of the -sometimes- available things that we call a ‘reentry resource‘. Sadly, not every state has these reentry resources set up. Some states are still incredibly discriminatory and are still stifling civil rights in the belief that people are ‘once bad, always bad’ – even with proof to the contrary.

Now, I know for sure that Illinois has this particular reentry tool available, you may have to search for your own state information to be entirely certain about your options in your criminal background situation. The justice system has a lot of variations on reentry tools between the states. And some states have nothing in place yet that really contribute to the reduction of recidivism. It’s a bit of a toss-up, but with enough shares nationwide – we can begin to change that.

(Update: I wrote a book on reentry for everyone! For more info – buy the print edition here: Guide to Life After a Felony – I did a ton of research for you!)

Now, for my fellow felons in Illinois (or Ill and Annoyed as many residents currently know it as… ), if you have a single felony background (first time offenders) and have been behaving for at least 3 years (along with a couple other requirements that are dependent on the type of conviction), you basically already qualify to apply for a Certificate of Good Conduct. Now, what this certificate does is take away liability from the hiring company for hiring someone with a record. It won’t erase your record, but it will help people see that you’ve turned a new leaf, taken a new path, and generally have played nicely with society for a while. This helps give employers an incentive to hire you and it helps protect them.

Reentry Resources: Certificates for Felons – My Experience

For my Certificate of Good Conduct (definitely a thing in Illinois AND New York), I took myself to the doctor and ordered a drug test on myself (The receptionist was rather confused at first, but was happy to schedule it for me). Then I got a copy of my criminal record, available at the local courthouse (and state police, or federal records can work as well, I’m sure). With these papers combined, along with the filing papers for the application for Certificate of Good Conduct, I got myself a court date.

I actually had a major advantage with the court, as no one in my county had ever attempted to earn this certificate before to the judge’s recollection, and I knew more about the Certificate than they did (Didn’t stop them from having a mini-conference about it and checking their law books before getting back to me – their faces were EPIC tho…). They didn’t even have a nice official paper that looks like a degree and portrays what the Certificate is. I only managed to get an updated note on my court file, but I print it out for consideration when I need to prove to an employer that I have it.

The best part is, this is only one of the possible ways to get a leg-up in the employment world. There is far more to come, and I look forward to sharing all sorts of reentry resources and post-conviction tips with you!

Please share my blog and spread the HOPE!

Love and Peace,
Aza E @aza_enigma (Twitter)

Check out these great resources in the blog while you’re here – there’s online work tips, resume hints, interview tips, and more great resources!

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