Shari Thomas committed a terrible crime.
She was sentenced to prison. She served 18 years behind bars. Her debt to society was repaid. She was released and she has sought to get on with her life.
Then something got in her way. It was her past.
Thomas’s story is not uncommon among those who have been sent to prison.
In her case, she killed the man who she said had abused her as a child. The crime took place a quarter-century ago. Now that she’s out of prison, she has sought to restart her life. Employers, though, still see her as a criminal. She cannot escape her past.
Her record is clean. She earned a master’s degree while behind bars. Thomas has sought to improve herself and by all accounts she’s been a model citizen since stepping out from her incarceration.
As the Washington Post reported: “In the past few years, perhaps because of the nation’s abiding fear of crime, its litigiousness, or the Internet’s ease at churning up background information that may not have surfaced before, Thomas has been rejected or terminated from several high-paying jobs.
“She had been making $150,000 six years ago. Now she is on food stamps. Sheetz, Wal-Mart and other retailers have turned her down for jobs. She could lose her Cecil County, Md., home.”
Is that fair? I think not.
The Post reports that Thomas is one of about 600,000 former prisoners who are let out each year. Many of them end up back in prison. “Thomas is not the only ex-convict asking for a second chance. But because she was a violent offender, her path to acceptance is hardest, even as Americans reconsider long-standing views of crime and punishment,” the Post reports.
Thomas asks: “When is enough enough?”
One idea being considered, is a move to “Ban the Box.” According to the Post: “To break the cycle, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and other organizations have been pushing ‘Ban the Box’ legislation that would prohibit employers, during preliminary screening, from disqualifying job seekers on the basis of a criminal record. Fourteen states and the District have signed on to such policies, as have 100 cities and counties, according to the National Employment Law Project.”
Sure, employers ought to know as much as is relevant about prospective employees. But why disqualify someone automatically if they check the “the Box” that says they served prison time?
If they’ve been model citizens, such as Shari Thomas, then their debt to society is repaid in full.
Correct? Then let them back fully into society.