by Deric Muhammad
Not everyone who has a felony is a criminal, they just made poor decisions.
From the time the first slave ship landed in Jamestown, Virginia life in America has been a rough journey for Black people. Four hundred and fifty seven years later statistics indicate that it still is.
And if being Black in America isn’t rough enough, try having a felony on your criminal record. Before you can get a good start it seems you’re already weighed down.
“Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” It’s the line in the sand on every job application that legalizes discrimination and double jeopardy. It’s the line item that often determines whether a young Black male will humble himself to flip burgers or compromise himself to hustle crack. Even McDonald’s makes it difficult for a felon to find honest work these days. Such is life in America when you’ve been convicted of a felony. You pay your debt to society. Then you are punished for the rest of your life.
To be a felon in the land of the free is no different than having a plantation’s brand on your back during the days of slavery. Society limits opportunities for you so that the chances of you returning to that plantation (prison) are almost guaranteed. The inability to find gainful employment is just the beginning.
A felony conviction could very well prevent you from finding decent housing, exercising your right to vote, being eligible for Federal School Financial Aid, obtaining trade certifications, etc. One out of every 13 Blacks of voting age cannot participate in the 2012 Presidential Election due to their past criminal history, a number 4 times greater than that of non-Blacks in America. Nowadays a felon can’t even apply for food stamps. In the words of Sister Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, this indicates that a convicted felon is not even “fit to be fed.”
“Release from prison does not represent the beginning of freedom but instead a cruel new phase of stigmatization and control,” said Alexander who spoke recently in Houston about Texas’ mass incarceration rates. “I argue that the shame and stigma of the “prison label” is, in many respects, more damaging to the African-American community than the shame and stigma associated with Jim Crow.”
“Being offered a job then being told I can’t have it because of my background is a slap in the face,” said Mrs. Jackson, a mother of four in her mid-forties with a college degree, great interpersonal skills and an educator by trade. “I’ve done what was required to right the mistake I made, yet over 10 years later I’m still being punished for it. I feel like the system is taunting me.”
Mrs Jackson’s claim of feeling “taunted” by the system is echoed around the country. If a person can’t find gainful employment then they will be tempted to go back into the life of crime that got them into trouble in the first place. Once they’ve done so and are rearrested they end up in prison, many which are now privately owned and publicly held.
Many consider this one of the most profound hypocrisies considering the history of this country. Consider the fact that many, if not all, of the early Europeans who came to America were felons themselves. Society calls them the Founding Fathers. Others call them “The Founding Felons.” Europe emptied her jails and sent her convicted criminals here as a way of ridding herself of the dregs of society. America represented new opportunity for its Founding Felons. The nerve of this nation, to be so unforgiving of those who have made mistakes and have already paid a debt to society.
Brothers and sisters who have felony convictions should never give up or lose hope. There are many who have made it, despite their past convictions and the attitude of everyone who walks in those same shoes should be “I WILL TOO!” The presidential candidates will not likely speak up for America’s millions of disenfranchised felons. Why? It’s simple. The vast majority of them can’t vote.
If you’ve been convicted of a felony it is strongly recommended that you consider Entrepreneurship, also known as “Doing for Self”, as an option. For every door that society has closed on you, you must find a side window to crawl into. Never hang your head in despair for the mistake you’ve made. The very person who turns you down for a job has made mistakes themselves. If you can’t find a job, find a way to make a job for yourself. America must learn that not everyone who has a felony is a criminal. And not everyone who is a criminal has a felony.