Hi, my name is Liz, and I am a convicted felon.
I want you to think about what it would be like to live in a world where you divulge your life’s worst decision to everyone you meet. Sounds crazy, right? Well, as an ex-offender, that is the exact reality I find myself in during times when I am most vulnerable: in new relationships, when applying for jobs, applying for a home, a loan, college, a car, etc. I was released in 2013 and since then I have been denied for jobs, fired from companies, denied entry into colleges, and been turned away for apartments all because of a criminal background from almost ten years ago. My story is not unique—it is shared amongst the millions of ex-offenders just like me.
I am one of the lucky ones. I recognize that I was blessed with a support system before, during, and after my incarceration. I had great friends that wrote me, money on my books, and the innate ability to adapt to every situation thrown at me, but so many women cannot say the same. I forged and maintained unbreakable bonds with woman that I probably would have never spoken to on the outside, and I attribute this to the synergism we created to help each other survive in a place like prison. By the same token, I can only imagine how hard it must be for women that don’t have a strong support system in place or a concrete plan for when they leave. I’ve seen it happen all too many times: women come in and out of those jail/prison doors because as soon as they leave they are rejected by a society that expects them to completely change their life without giving them a fair chance to do so. I describe the feeling as feloncholy—the word to describe the feeling a felon experiences when they are denied privileges because of their felonious past. This ends with so many deserving individuals reverting right back to the lifestyle that helped them survive for so long, each time coming at a much higher cost than the time before. Frankly, had I not had a safe place to go to upon my release and the privileges associated with being a white woman, I probably would have ended up right back in prison collecting my three hots and a cot, too.
We—humanity as a collective body—all move through life making mistake after mistake. Some people cheat on their spouses, others cheat the system. This is not new information to anyone. However, some mistakes, felonies specifically, brand people for a lifetime, not just until the lesson is learned or the debt is repaid. This is my truth, and this is what being a felon has become for me. I am forever branded with the scarlet “F” and I find myself sticking out for all the wrong reasons.
Time and time again I am reminded of my past. Time and time again I am reminded that second chances aren’t as easily given as the sentiment itself. But time and time again, I have picked myself up and continued to make opportunities happen in my life. I have taken chances and thankfully, people have taken chances on me! I have embraced that which was meant to oppress me, and I have turned it into my reason for wanting to engender change for other offenders in my same predicament. I want people to know that I matter—that WE matter. We are your mothers, your sisters, your daughters, your employees, your co-workers. We are just like you, except that we have are being defined by our mistakes instead of having been able to walk away from them like you. We are just as capable of love, respect, decency and human rights as any other person, and I am using my voice to spread this message. Things need to change. Our systems need to change, our perceptions need to change, and our hearts, as a society, need to change.
So why not start by changing the narrative? Instead of seeing me for my conviction, see me for what I am now: a testimony. A free woman. A college graduate, with honors. A smart, talented, hard-working, and diligent young woman who has done everything she can to rebuild herself. See me as an advocate. See me for who I am after my mistakes instead of negating all the good I have done since my release. When you think of second chances, I want you to think of me and the many others like myself. We are here to stay.
Hi, my name is Liz, and I am exactly who I want to be.