I’ve heard so much talk recently about this “Ban the Box” initiative. I just learned a little bit more about it. Apparently, a company or an agency can eliminate the box on a job application that asks if you’ve ever been arrested or convicted of a crime. The question has different ways of appearing, but always means the same to someone like me. Always puts knots deep in your gut. Always makes you want to disappear into a dark hole because you did indeed get arrested. Because you did indeed go to jail. Because I did indeed go to prison on a felony charge.
I understand that eliminating the box is no law anywhere. It is just a policy that an agency or a company may voluntarily adopt to give people a chance to get to the interview stage of trying to get a job. Otherwise those applications with the box checked “yes” get tossed – no matter what qualifications the applicant may have. I have learned through one defeating experience after another that people seem to enjoy being able to judge others with the words “convict” or “felon” for the rest of their lives, unless of course, one day, it happens to them or their family.
I was 21 when I got my felony charge. I was stuck on a guy who was running drugs and knew all too well how to easily catch and hold a young woman’s attention. I was released after a few months. Although that was more than 20 years ago, I still can’t apply for a new job or apply for a higher posted position on a job without the box haunting me. The jobs I have had happened because somebody knew of me or my family or a church member and they got me in the door.
Those times always make you feel like you are still a criminal sneaking around in the dark just to build and maintain a responsible sustainable life. I have even had government officials treat me like I was lucky to be working at all. I had a high-ranking official ask how did I slip through the cracks? As if I could never pay back society. As if I should never be able to earn a second chance.
I don’t know where the ban the box movement will go from here. But I do know that what used to make sense to some people who enjoy power and authority, does not make any sense at all today. There are just too many people – good people – trying to be productive as citizens, who are smart and talented, for the job market to keep them out. It has got to be a cost to commerce and business that just makes no sense at all.
I sure hope this short version of my very long journey helps someone somewhere in some way. I also hope more people will check out what is behind this ban the box movement and learn more about what we can do together to give it more energy.