I Am More Than My Criminal Record

I Am A Dad

“When I was six years old, my mother sat me down and said, ‘We are moving and dad is not coming with us.’ Before I could process the idea of my dad not living with us, my mother said I was now going to be the man of the house. Within a week or two, my mom, my brother and I moved to a 12-storey apartment building called Friendship House. There I was, six years old and the man of the house. My job every morning was to drop my little brother off at the babysitter, catch the bus to school and return home to an empty apartment. My mother taught me how to lock and unlock the door and she instructed us to be very quiet. No one could know we were home alone or she could get in trouble and go to jail.

Growing up in the hood, we didn’t have a lot of role models, so I wanted to be a drug dealer. The drug dealers had the nice cars, the girls and the money. Before I knew it, I was on the streets selling drugs and getting in fights all the time. I was in and out of jail for 10 years and realized there was one common denominator – drugs. My first daughter was born while I was in prison. We spent three-and-a-half years getting to know each other across a visiting room table. The last time I was incarcerated I read a book called ‘The Purpose Driven Life’. It was then that I found my purpose in life. While locked up, I started writing a five-year plan. In my plan, I wanted to be a part of society and a positive member of my community. I decided I wanted to be an addiction counselor. One of my life goals was to get a master’s degree. Another life goal was that I wanted to be a better dad. I was released from prison on June 10, 2010. My five-year plan was my road map for the next chapter of my life. I had just been released from prison and I wasn’t sure if I had a chance, but I knew I was going to try anyway.

When I got home I had one shirt, one tie, and my old pair of black shoes that I shined up with some Vaseline to make them shine like new. I applied for my first job as a Peer Recovery Specialist with an agency in town. I showed up clean, with my shirt ironed and my shiny pair of shoes. During the interview, they asked me if I had any experience in corrections and I said that I had 10 years. Then I went on explaining that my experience came from being incarcerated. The interviewer told me she would be in touch. I didn’t think they were going to call me back, but I received a phone call a week later and they asked me to come see them again. They wanted to tell me that they were interested in hiring someone with lived experience to support and encourage people. I got the job and years later went on to get a bachelor’s and master’s degree and accomplished many other life goals. I am now the Director of the Office of Recovery Community Affairs for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, State of Connecticut. One day while working with a client, I saw a prosecutor I knew from years ago when we were in court. He was surprised to see me working on the legal side of the fence and said, ‘You give me hope.’ I thought, ‘You gave me time, and I give you hope?’ My life has changed a lot in eight years.

The biggest change is that I have been given another chance at being a dad. Being a dad is the best job in the world. Now I am there for my kids. I moved my kids from the hood to a nice neighbourhood. I have a nice house with a swimming pool, where my kids can grow up not worrying about violence. I also have the opportunity to share and give others hope. If you get even a small piece of hope from my story, that’s better than any high I have ever had. I even coach 12-year-old youth basketball. Even though there was a season where we didn’t win a game, the important thing was the relationship I built with those kids that didn’t have dads. For a long time, I wanted to a part of a community and a better citizen. Today, I can proudly say, I am that.”

I Am Creative

“I grew up in a small town in BC and left home when I was 14. I fell in love and moved to a different town with my boyfriend. I started using drugs recreationally and became very active in my addiction. On my 19th birthday, my house was raided and I was charged for multiple offenses. My boyfriend and I decided to move to Alberta and start a new life. We both wanted to be clean and needed a fresh start, but we met the wrong crowd and got into even worse trouble. We both ended up getting arrested, were taken to the courthouse and placed in cells across from each other. That’s when he proposed. Before I got out of jail, he had arranged for the engagement ring to be placed in my property. He came out of jail shorty after and we got to spend five days together before I had to go back in. While inside, I called my mother to see how she was doing. She asked me how my day was and then proceeded to tell me that my fiancé had overdosed and died. When I got out, I went downhill and was arrested for a third time. It finally set in that he was gone and that my life would never be the same. This time when I got out, I went to rehab and got clean. I had always wanted to be a photographer and have my own business – I am creative and skilled with Photoshop and InDesign. I like creating things that are my own – not ordinary. I tried applying for a job but, when I was in the interview, the employer asked me if I had a criminal record. I replied honestly and was asked to leave right after. I felt useless – now I don’t apply for jobs that might require a police information check. I also looked into doing post-secondary schooling and was surprised that the program I wanted to take also required a police information check. I’m not sure about my future now. I am not my charges. I have realized that if I wasn’t in jail that it could have been me that overdosed, instead of my fiancé. Now I don’t even consider the thought of using. He is my source of strength. He lives on through me because I am clean.

This is a photo I took of the last time we were together, combined with a drawing I drew for him – our hands in the shape of a heart! It also has the nicknames we called each other. It has every aspect of who I truly am, all in one.”

I Am Thankful

“My dad lived in the fast lane. He was a womanizer who used to smoke and drink. My mom is the one who kept the family together. From the ages of 4 to 13, she would take me to church but I stopped wanting to go and started getting into trouble. I followed in my father’s footsteps and became addicted to nicotine, alcohol and marijuana. At the time, having fun was the most important thing in life — this led me to frequent bars and discotheques in the pursuit of wine, women and song. When I was charged, it seemed trivial and my thoughts were to simply pay a fine and move on. My criminal convictions are a result of being high or drunk and it has affected my life in many ways — I was declined jury duty, have been refused entry into the USA, and turned down for a job that I applied for. This has had a big impact in my psychological well-being. I continuously revisit all the negative experiences, even though my last charge was over 15 years ago. Around the turn of the century, I started some soul-searching and seriously considered the true meaning of life — my mom passed away and it seemed like I had finally come to my senses. In remembrance of when she used to take me to church all those years, I started reading scriptures and found my Lord Saviour, Jesus Christ. I also took a life skills program in 2002-2003 and, since then, I have successfully given up all drugs and alcohol. My outlook on life changed drastically. Now I don’t even consider doing mischievous things. I am thankful that I am still alive, that I have moved past many things and, mostly, that I was led back to the truth. I am clean and sober and convinced that I will never again return to that lifestyle of which I am ashamed.”

I Am A Mom

“The last time I went to jail, I knew it was going to break me or make me. I had been in and out for many years and was tired of being a phone mom; it was depressing not being able to see my kids. I wanted to be more than a statistic, more than a number and more than a drug addict – I wanted to be successful in life and not be looked down on. Before I got out, I decided to set goals for myself. I went back to school and took an office administration diploma. I graduated ahead of time, but I couldn’t find an office job because of my criminal record, and had $13,000 in student loan debt I needed to pay off. I thought, ‘Why am I still being punished if I’ve served my time?’ Though it was hard to stay positive when I couldn’t find work in my field, I have managed to stay clean for three years. Eventually, my friend helped me get a job at a landscaping company where I busted my butt working 12-hour days, sometimes up to 12 days in a row. I am now 18 weeks pregnant and it is very tiring, but I am so happy to have a job. I also feel lucky because the people I work with know that I have a criminal record and I don’t feel judged – I can be real without feeling like I am hiding something. I work hard, am a quick learner and my initiative always gets me promoted. Recently, I got my license and now I’m trusted with the keys to the dump truck. I love that I have been given extra responsibilities. My next goal is to save up money to buy a house. I want my children to have a place to call home and know that they are loved and not alone.”

I Am A Grandma

“I never thought I would see the inside of a jail. I was in a bad relationship with a man that was controlling and abusive. One day, he drank so much that he stopped on the side of the road and fell asleep on the wheel. The cops found him and he was picked up for impaired driving. He wanted to get away from being charged and asked me to get a receipt from a mechanic stating that the truck had been worked on recently, so that he could prove that the truck was inoperable. My name was written on the receipt when I picked it up and my ex gave it to his lawyer. Eventually the receipt was used in court proceedings and I was charged for aiding and abetting to perjury. I got sick from the stress. I was rushed to emergency one day because I had a tear in a main artery and my doctor thought I was having a stroke. I started getting epilepsy attacks after that and I lost my job due to illness. I was okay with that because I didn’t want to tell my employer that I had to go serve a sentence. I had to do my sentence intermittently when my ex was not working, so that he could look after my underage son while I was in jail. I did six days in, 15 days out and it took me almost a year to complete my sentence. The hardest part of all was that my grandson was born the day I went into custody. I wasn’t there when my daughter gave birth. That is something I can never get back. I have since left the relationship and would like to obtain full-time employment, but it has been difficult. I want to be able to support my family and spend time with my kids and grandson.”

I Am Resilient

“‘I Had a Good Get Go.’ That’s what my dad would have said. I was adopted, but I couldn’t have gotten luckier. I was raised with total love from both my parents and all the critters at our farm. Then I ran into a two-legged that stole my heart (a man). Even though I was only 17, I knew he was the one. So we loved, worked and created a business. Soon after, my father passed, then my favourite aunt passed, as well as my mom and then Nana. The man I fell in love with got a sore back that didn’t go away. He was diagnosed with cancer and he was gone three weeks later. That was the hardest funeral. After that, I gave away most tools, sold our house and our saw, which was like our wedding ring. One day, I went to a pub to have a beer and I was drugged by a man at the bar. He kidnapped me, assaulted me and withdrew all the money from my bank account. I later found out I had been missing for 15 days. Before I knew it, I was homeless and living on the street. I was so hurt and emotionally destroyed. It took less than a day on the street to find out crack makes you wake up and feel no pain. Soon I accumulated charges. One day, I walked across the road to an empty parking lot and sat down on a curb. When I looked up, I could see the AADAC building, a recovery centre. I looked back down, and there was a pile of pennies beneath my feet. When I found pennies, it meant something really good or really bad was going to happen. This time there was about 200 of them. I swear my mom had something to do with them. She used to collect them. I went to AADAC for three months and got sober. Now I am growing older and I need to find a new career. These charges that are more than 10 years old may be standing in my way. Stuff can happen to anybody; I thought I was safe and that my life would never change. Shit happens, it can happen to anybody and rather quickly too.”

I Am A Volunteer

“Not many people know about my bad boy days. I was charged with ‘Conspiracy to Traffic’ and received a six-year prison sentence. I didn’t like having my freedom taken away from me – I made a promise to myself that I would never forget my time inside and that I would never go back. Six months after my release, I felt like I was forgetting how painful my experience was. That’s when I decided to start volunteering for the Calgary John Howard Society (CJHS) by going to schools and speaking about my experience. It gave me an opportunity to reach out to students in hopes that they would make better decisions, while also keeping the memory of going to prison foremost in my mind. I was fortunate to eventually find employment with an entity where a few did know of my past, but I realized this past had no reflection on what I had to offer. I was able to work at a job that paid a good wage and allowed me to retire comfortably at 65. During that time, I also sat on John Howard Society boards locally, provincially and nationally for 16 years – now I sit on a not-for-profit board in support of seniors’ housing. I applied for and received a pardon (now a record suspension) after retirement – more out of curiosity than need. I have been living two lives since my release from prison. One with my longtime friends and associates at CJHS and one with all of the other people I have met since who have no idea of my past, including most of my family members. I appreciate my good fortune and continue working to ease the discomfort of those less fortunate. I am currently helping five people with their record suspension applications and three of them are barely making enough money to survive. I am also constantly approaching all levels of government to tell them that they need to ease the record suspension process, and more importantly the cost. I’ll keep that up until it happens.”

I Am A Heavy Equipment Operator

“My life has taken one hell of a detour. Four years ago, I was at a bar with my coworker, who was drunk and decided that he wanted to drive his truck home. I ran out to stop him and we got into an argument. Someone in the bar heard and called the police. We were arguing for about 15 minutes and, when the police pulled up, the keys were in the ignition, I was in the driver’s seat and my friend was in the passenger seat. I was charged with impaired driving. The police took my license on the spot and a court date was set for the next year. I kept my job for a while, carpooling with a co-worker but, after six months, it became too difficult to coordinate our different schedules and I lost the job. When the court date came, I couldn’t afford a lawyer. The prosecutor offered me a plea bargain and, at first, I rejected the plea, telling her, ‘I’m not pleading guilty to a crime I didn’t do.’ She told me that the charges from the judge would probably be worse if I plead not guilty and that I would lose my license for three years. I decided to take the plea deal out of fear. I lost my license for one year and, when the year was up, I got a letter from the government stating that when I started driving I would need to have an interlock breath test machine in my vehicle for three years. It’s been four years since I lost my license, I don’t have a vehicle and I’m still struggling to find work. In my line of work, most companies expect you to drive to the work site. I’m trying to find work at a camp where I can stay at the job site and I don’t need to drive back and forth. I’d like to get back to work full-time. I’ve been a heavy equipment operator for 15 years. I never expected to be in a place where I could not get a job.”

I Am Determined

“I was in an abusive relationship and I felt like I had nowhere to go. Some days he chose to drink over putting food on the table. I didn’t know how to explain to my son that we didn’t have anything to eat. I gave my son the choice to stay with his dad or come with me. He said he wanted to be with me, so we both went to a shelter. Some days at the shelter I would sit down and cry. When the workers asked me if I missed home, I would say, ‘No, when I walked out that door, I was done’ and I would always tell my son, ‘I am going to work as hard as I can to get us out of here.’ I was recently housed thanks to a housing program in the city and I work night shifts at a temp agency to get by. My biggest challenge is gaining full-time employment. When criminal record checks are done, the door gets slammed shut in your face, but I am determined and hard-working. My son is thriving now and that makes me happy. He loves football and welding. I want him to have an education, have his welding and have his sports. KidSport gave him funding to go to football camp and he is doing so well. Right now, I have to be patient and I have to keep going.”

I Am A Believer

“I was addicted to drugs and living on lower East Hastings, Vancouver. Four years ago, I was in a treatment facility and one night I tried to escape. My room was on the third floor and I thought I could tie my bed sheets together, hang them out of the window and climb down. It was raining out and I couldn’t hang on. I fell 27 feet down to the ground. I broke my back in two places and every bone in my left leg under my knee. The paramedics came and I passed out on the way to the hospital. Ten months after, I overdosed on heroin and the paramedic Narcanned me. When I regained consciousness, he was smiling at me and said, ‘You don’t recognize me do you?’ I said, ‘No, sorry I don’t.’ He told me that he was the same paramedic who took me to the hospital 10 months earlier when I fell. I said, ‘I’ve been looking for you — you’ve saved my life twice now. Thank you.’ It was the next day that I got sober. I had always said, ‘The day I get Narcanned is the day I quit heroin.’ I decided to give my addiction to God. It was God’s strength that gave me the ability to quit drugs and alcohol for good. I went into detox for 10 days and then a treatment facility for six months. I moved back to Calgary and I got my certification as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher. I wanted to work in the field and give back to those who had saved me. I was fully certified and got job offers from Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary but, once they found out that I had a criminal record, they said they couldn’t hire me. I’ve now decided to go back to school and pursue my other passion, which is music. I want to write songs that help others the way music has helped me through the hard times in my life.”

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