Published: Feb 13, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Feb 13, 2011 12:07 AM
Maurice Wiley Sr. stood before the congregation to tell his story. "I got a letter from FedEx this week," he began. "I didn't get the job."
He trembled as he fought back the pain of yet another rejection. The prayers of the church weren't enough to hold back the judgment of those who decided not to hire Wiley. We prayed after he told us the snow that was coming would not be enough to keep him away from his pending interview. "I have to take care of my family," he said on the Sunday before the storm shut down the city. "I will do whatever it takes to get a job."
Wiley's determination and willingness to work has been overshadowed by a box on the employment application. It's the question that keeps men and women like him trapped in a cycle of pain that robs them of their chance to undo the wrong that keeps their application in the reject file.
Do you have a criminal record? Are you a felon? Have you spent time incarcerated? Mark yes so we can end this process.
Wiley does not hide his past. He has spent close to half of his life incarcerated due to a long bout with addiction. His last time in prison was enough to place him on that road less traveled among those who use substances to fill a void in their souls.
His son, Maurice Wiley, Jr., 21, is serving a five-year sentence for crimes committed in 2007. "I have to be a better role model for my family," he said. "I have no option; I won't go back to prison."
Since being released from prison in 2008, Wiley Sr., 47, has devoted himself to a life of spiritual practice. He studies the scriptures as a way of helping to transform him from a man identified as a habitual criminal into a father and husband of integrity. "I'm doing this for me," he said. "There ain't nothing in the streets for me no more."
The church I pastor prays for Maurice each week. We call him Tweet. We admire his ability to remain strong despite the obstacles in the way of his dream. All he asks for is a job to provide for his family. His wife, Belinda, stood beside him after each conviction. "I almost gave up the last time he went to prison," she told me. "I could tell by the way he talked that something inside has changed."
Wiley is not alone in fighting the odds to find employment with the blemish of a criminal record standing in the way. In Durham County nearly 4,000 people are currently on probation or parole.
The Durham Second Chance Alliance is a coalition of advocacy and community organizations, service providers, faith-based organizations, community leaders and ex-offenders working to ban the box on employment applications.
"I feel that the system does not give ex-felons a fair chance to reenter into society," said Davis Wonis of Second Chance Alliance. "They are labeled, criticized and harassed, and are being tried for the same offense over and over again. The system is unfair and needs to be changed."
Banning the box would remove those questions regarding past criminal activity from the application. Banning the box does not deny employers the right to obtain information regarding past criminal activity, but requires hiring agents to wait on obtaining backgrounds checks until they are willing to offer a job or they are a finalist for the open position.
Many communities have passed ordinances that affected those with criminal records. Twenty-three cities including Detroit, Cincinnati, Boston and Memphis have passed laws banning the box.
Men and women like Wiley understand consequences that come with violating laws. All Wiley wants is a chance to tell his story before being denied a chance to work. It hurts when you keep getting punished when you have paid that debt to society.
Wiley keeps waiting for the door of opportunity to open. The church keeps praying that someone will look past the check in the box.
Or, we could fight to ban the box and give people a chance to put rehabilitation into action.