Viewpoints

After prison, I changed my life. But these discriminatory laws still punish me

Imagine being legally barred from having a family because of something you did wrong – for which you were held accountable – years ago in your past.

While this may sound like a plot line from a science fiction novel, it is a reality in our country. My wife and I faced this situation when we decided to start a family.

We knew getting pregnant might be a challenge, so we decided to adopt a child. That’s when reality came crashing down: We are permanently barred from adopting because I am living with a prior criminal conviction from over a decade ago.

During my teenage years, I was troubled. Months after my 18th birthday, I was convicted of robbery and sentenced to prison. I served eight years and turned my life around. Even though I completed my sentence, rehabilitated myself and dedicated my life to restoring communities, my family remains harmed by the permanent restrictions people living with old convictions face.

The prohibition on adopting is just one example.

Opinion

Eight million Californians are living with a past conviction. They face thousands of permanent restrictions on things like jobs, housing, education and more.

Shortly after my release, I sought employment in real estate and other fields but was denied because of my conviction. I reached out to law enforcement officials in my hometown to start a youth program to help young people avoid my path. We got the program running, but it couldn’t operate at the local school because of my conviction. Despite having no further involvement in crime, after 15 years I still am barred from jobs such as selling used cars, being a barber or working as a dog walker.

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And I am one of the lucky ones. I became a community organizer. Many people with convictions do not have opportunities to gain economic mobility or stability.

I am proud to be at the helm of an organization raising awareness and advocating for change as part of its Time Done campaign. We we are calling for an end to lifetime obstacles for people that have completed their sentences and a new road to redemption.

Today, hundreds of Californians will join elected officials, community leaders and artists to stand up for a real second chance.

We are bringing a 1,400-foot “Wall of Consequences” exhibit to the Capitol. It depicts the 50,000 post-conviction restrictions placed on Americans with old convictions.

Most of these restrictions have no foundation in public safety and serve no societal purpose other than to make it harder for people to earn employment and stability.

One study found that the U.S. loses $87 billion every year in economic activity because of restrictions on people with a past conviction.

These restrictions jeopardize public safety and contribute to the cycle of crime by preventing pathways to success. The very things people are being blocked from reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

The State Legislature is considering changes that will help Californians who have completed their sentences expunge old records and access opportunities. We applaud these efforts and are building a movement to do even more: Let’s eliminate barriers by removing old convictions.

Miraculously, last year my wife got pregnant and we were blessed with a baby boy. Still, that old conviction means I can’t coach his sports team or chaperone his field trips.

What sense does that make?

The time has come to get rid of policies that prevent people from overcoming their past and getting back to work, regardless of how long it’s been.

For the sake of public safety, our economy, and our communities, it’s time for #TimeDone.

Jay Jordan is the executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice
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