In the fall of 2008, I was arrested in a police sting which resulted in a felony conviction in 2010. I was sentenced to five years of probation which included ten years on the sex offense registry. Immediately following my arrest, I was told by a professional recruiter and friend that he would never be able to place me because of my criminal record. My Columbia MBA and years of leadership experience were not going to help me.
As bad as it was for me, I was very fortunate. Long-time family friends own a tobacco and candy distribution business and they offered me a job. I went from working in a highly professional world dealing with billion-dollar budgets into a working-class environment. I spent long days on the warehouse floor, moving boxes and filling customer orders. In my adult life, I had never had a job that required physical labor and it was exhausting. Everyone smelled like a cigarette and the raw culture that combined a mix of co-worker infighting with romance was foreign to me.
For the two and a half of the years I worked there, I was on probation. On a few occasions, my probation officer came to the business in uniform as a routine matter to check on me. My employer was fully aware and supportive. I needed to miss a few hours each week for probation check-ins and mandatory treatment. Had my employer been anyone but a family friend, I doubt I would have held on to that job. I was always worried that I would get injured or sick and that would result in me generating no income at all.
From there, I tried to work my way back into a position where I could use more of my skills. I first worked for an entrepreneur who had just invented a driveway sealing product. When I told him that I would invest sweat, not financial, equity, he berated me and we parted ways. My next employer was a box manufacturer. I learned within the first week that he had hired me as his general manager to be the fall guy when any one of his ethically questionable practices came back to hurt him. After he spent the first week screaming at me, I knew it wasn’t a good fit and I quit. And my final interim job was for a start-up pita bread manufacturer. I left after several production delays and with him owing me $5,000.
I’ve been with the same business now since 2012 and off of probation for four years. Without the privilege that I enjoyed prior to my arrest which allowed me to attend top schools, develop professional skills and save money, I would never have been able to get and keep the job I have now. Even with that, I am nervous every day. We have had new employees quit after googling my name and learning that I’m on the registry. While I do a tremendous amount of behind the scenes work, I worry all of the time that my association with the business will end up hurting its reputation. However, my greatest anxiety comes from a fear that I could lose my current job and not be able to find another.
As I reflect and attempt to write my story, I recognize that so many people have had it worse than I. While my salary has been significantly reduced and I don’t get to live the lifestyle that I expected, I have been tremendously lucky. For so many, the stigma of a felony combined with placement on the registry is devastating. Even employers who might be willing to give a second chance are reluctant to hire because of the potential damage that could be done to their reputation or the impact that decision could have on their other employees. As a result, people who would otherwise be productive members of society are unemployed. Nobody wins.