By Kay Lee
Make The Walls Transparent

I've known Sharif a long time. He is one of my ex-prisoners, a person I trust and admire. Ten years ago, he was a drug offender who has since paid his debt. Now ... isn't it society's turn? Aren't we supposed to forgive him, give him a second chance? Isn't that what it's all about?

Sharif was convicted of his non-violent drug crime 10 years ago. He did his entire time. He has been through hell in the Florida system to pay his debt to society. He is not on probation or parole. He is intelligent, determined to do good, and willing to work hard to make it. He's been his own man for over a year - Drug free and crime free.

But Sharif could not get gainful employment in Florida because of his ex-offender status, so he moved to Richardson, Texas, where he has family. He thought it would be a fresh start. He has taken whatever penny-ante jobs he can find, usually two jobs at a time (because we know no one can take care of a household properly on minimum wages).

He finally found a good job with benefits and a future at a company called AdvancePCS. On the application it asked if he had been convicted of a felony. Sharif asked a local lawyer if he had to check the box, because that is the point where he always loses his opportunity. The attorney advised him incorrectly: He said Sharif didn't have to check the box if his felony had nothing to do with the job duties.

So he didn't check the box. He was hired and for two weeks he was there every day, coming in early to learn on his own time, doing a good job. He was excited, grateful, ambitious, devoted, everything any employer could want. Until the records check turned up his past.

Then he was 'let go.' Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

If society was doing its part, Sharif and others in his position would be assisted in their efforts to return to the fold. Does forgiveness ever enter the picture?

I talk to many ex-prisoners. This is a major problem for them. They come out so full of high hopes, determined not to do anything to go back, anxious to rejoin society. But society still doesn't want them. Many end up in trouble again precisely because no one will give them a job that will support them and their family. If you get hungry enough or desperate enough for the basic necessities, anyone is liable to get into a bad situation. It's not right to make it harder on them when you said all they had to do was repay their debt in one of the only two ways society offers: Fines or Time.

If we want ex-prisoners to become assets, we, as members of society, are going to have to be willing to help. Here's how you could help in a big way.

All Sharif needs is a chance, and I strongly support his employment with AdvancePCS. Sharif is intelligent, creative, conscientious, professional and hardworking, and his employment with your company would be an asset and a wise investment.

Sharif is a wonderful, intelligent, kind person and wants to work for a good company very badly. He needs letters of recommendation, letters of encouragement to the company who hasn't based their decision on Sharif's character, but on his desperation to be productive.

I have included the email addresses and phone number for the personnel of this company who can give him the chance he so desperately needs. Unless someone out there has a good job with a future to offer, letters to the following people would help the most.

Please send Sharif a copy of any correspondence you have with the company

Even if your concern doesn't help him at AdvancePCS, it may help him and others like Sharif in the future. And that's good for all of us.

Editor's note: It's my understanding that Sharif did obtain a decent job. How many other Sharifs are there, however, in the United States and other nations who need a recommendation letter on their behalf? Don't judge lest ye be judged.


TRUE DEMOCRACY Summer 2002 Copyright © 2002 by News Source, Inc.