Lasting Impact After a Felony Conviction
In my case, I know I had a lot to deal with when it came to my friends and family in the time just before, during, and after my conviction. Different people had different emotions about everything, a different perspective, and had different opinions on what to do, who to be, how to be, and they all wanted to be the one that was ‘right’.
- My parents – were disappointed in my choices and terrified for my wellbeing, wondering what they had done wrong to earn such awful behavior in reward for raising me. They obviously wanted to step far enough away to allow a lesson to sink in, but also desperately wanted to help. As a parent now – I can only imagine the depth of conflicting thoughts during that time.
- My friends – were either enablers – in the direction of trouble – or they were backing away from me slowly and helplessly as I kept making worse and worse decisions. Neither reaction from either group was really helpful. I knew I didn’t need to keep being around the troublesome ones, but when the ‘good’ friends couldn’t help but avoid me – it was even more difficult to stick to a positive path that was helpful.
- My siblings – basically disowned me on top of everything else going on (ten years later and we still don’t really talk unless one of the family has passed away), and even though we didn’t start out close (being a bonus baby 15 years younger than the youngest born will do that), it still was an added misery to be ignored by the people I thought would be around to help me get back on my feet – at least someone to root for me to do better without backing down like others had.
- My significant other(s) – Yeah, that was another complication, to be honest. One of the fellows that constantly vied for my attention was the one that was the bad boy – the one that decided it would be fun to have an ‘adventure’ of sorts that night where things went way out of control and ended badly for a whole community. The other was basically the polar opposite of the bad boy – he was essentially a shining knight – not that this is a storybook fairytale in any way. One pulled me deeper into the swamp of their criminal ideas of what was ‘fun’ in the Midwest, the other tried to get me to flip on the one that had gotten me into the mess in their perspective. (Which wasn’t something I found ideal or tasteful – even if it could have been a solution for the problems I faced both pre and post-conviction. Additionally, I have always taken responsibility for allowing myself to go as far as I did down the path I went with the bad boy – that simply wasn’t an option in my eyes.) Both became frustrated with me and with each other.
My parents, being who they were, forgave me quickly if harboring some very mild distrust with me afterward. But I didn’t mind that so much, as I knew I had let them down the most out of anyone on my list of immediately impacted persons, second only to having let myself down (I had developed some pretty big plans for myself, and most of them were pretty well destroyed until I found the loopholes to get back into society – on totally different terms though). Our relationship was rebuilt pretty quickly honestly – but that’s not always the case for many of us with a conviction. The fact that my parents were willing to rebuild a relationship was really an integral part of recovering my life and finding the stability that would keep me out of trouble. I hope that if you don’t have your own parents available, that you can find a suitable positive surrogate person that can offer advice in a parental manner. It’s really helpful – social connections really do have a positive impact!
The siblings, well… that was a different story. The sister that was always there for me had passed away a couple years before – and the other two … well, they generally act as if I had died after my conviction. Even after more than a decade of time – and numerous attempts to mend the bridge – it is still in broken down tatters. One sibling is willing to converse – so long as it centers around the care of our mom, while the other hasn’t spoken a word in my direction since 2006. While it’s not optimal – but – I also know I have found people that treat me so much better than they ever did – and that’s good enough for now. I still hope that one day we will mend the family but I don’t really let the idea consume me or negatively influence my behavior. It’s simply something I’ve had to adapt to – basically by adopting new people as family members as I’ve moved forward in life. A family does not have to be based on blood, guys… – I promise you – you can find the right people that will help you build yourself up. Put yourself out there in positive social situations that align with your goals and surprise yourself!
As for the old and familiar friendly enablers, I may have held on to a few of these folks for a little longer than I should have (at least according to my probation officer). I did eventually let them go and cut the connections, at least for the majority of the group. I won’t ignore most of them if I see them in public, but I make a point to not dedicate my time to them to any extent – we’re just not on the same path in life anymore. It does suck a bit because there are quite a few good memories, but it’s not worth the possibility of getting back into trouble and throwing everything away again. If I discover that they’ve changed for the better, I’m always more than happy to reconnect, but I’ve learned to recognize when I have to keep away from people that I might care about – but can’t associate with for my own safety and security.
The positive friends that stuck around are spread a little thin after all of this time (no one wants to stay in the Midwest, lol), but they have proven to be ultimately true and supportive over the years. It is quite true that while the quantity of friends reduces over time and through difficulty – the quality of friend increases. The ones that are truly helping you grow will show themselves by behaving in this way.
Unfortunately, I still have some difficulty making new friends. As an awkward person that is terribly anxious – it’s slow going, to say the least. But I get by with enough social interaction to not lose my mind entirely. Online support groups have helped – #FelonsAreHumans on Facebook has quite a few good people in it – that understand everything felons experience. The various Reddit forums have been quite inspiring as well and have brought me into contact with very interesting people. If you’re similarly awkward – try these platforms to reach out.
As far as those significant others go, well, bad boy went to prison, got out, went back, got out again, and generally sticks with a mutual agreement to avoid each other to keep the peace. Shining knight, is still a shining knight, and while he never did convince me to flip like he would have preferred – we’ve been taking care of each other ever since those days – even if we separated for a while. Shining knight is the father of my child after all, lol. The felony did strain the relationship for some time, but having a kid sort of forces you to rise above the issues you’re facing – even if it requires a change in the exact terms for how you go about it – all our situations there in the romance and having kids department of life can get really complicated – so no matter what complications you are facing – know that there can be a positive resolution found. Communication and compromise are key factors – giving up certain things may be required, but it’s worth it for the kids in these cases.
Combatting the Collateral Consequences
We all need a good support system in our lives. When you have a conviction and need a second chance, this can make it difficult though, especially if you stay in the same small town where your record happened. Like I did. I still live here actually, and I sort of like showing everyone how I still found success even though they’ve all booed me behind my back after seeing my name in the local paper. Some of you know what I mean there.
However, there is hope, if you have the drive and determination to show that you’ve changed. My volunteer experience with a local shelter helped express to those in the humanitarian side of my community that I really was a changed person, and I have had a recent upturn in social interactions with the community. It’s really great to see these people be shocked and so in love with what I’m trying to do these days.
I’ve also participated in a couple local events, selling craft items at a booth in a fall festival the town hosts, as well as walking in parades with various organizations my son has become involved with over the years. Every time I do this – I share my story and change a couple of minds while I’m at it. I’ve attended health events, reentry events, and addiction recovery events – sharing my story and sharing the resources I’ve found.
Each and every time – someone is impressed with what I’ve done! Now, how many people in general, let alone people with a felony background – can say they’ve felt a community smile at them? Especially after a felony conviction. My. Mind. Was. Blown.
And it drove home a very simple fact. By having a positive public presence, our image can be improved along with our own progression through our trials and after felony problems.
It’s not easy, and even after a decade, I do still get some flack about the past. It isn’t easy to deal with every time it happens, but I maintain my dignity and respond with as much kindness as I can muster in those situations. I know it’s not easy, but we can always rise above the obstacles we face.
Best of luck in all of your social support endeavors my felonious friends, goodness knows we all need it.
Til Next Time,
Aza @aza_enigma (Twitter)