An honor to serve? How about a fair chance at a job, or housing…


Society doesn’t trust me to use federal assistance for food or school tuition, is willing to refuse me housing and employment simply and solely based on a background check with no discussion because of my criminal record, and some countries won’t let me cross their borders…

…and yet you trust me with the “honor” to be on a “jury of peers” and serve jury duty?

Really.  I find this ironic and hypocritical.  What do you think?

Shame on Hoosiers, Shame on America!  Give us a break!  (Read on to learn more…)

An honor to serve? I’d rather have a fair chance at a job, or housing…or other assistance granted to other citizens. Thanks!

 

I’ve learned a lot in the last 5 years about the barriers our society puts in place for people living with a criminal record.  I was as surprised to learn about them as many people I talk with about my experience.  I guess “ignorance is bliss.”  But ignorance also keeps the status quo in place…  Which is why I try to talk about what I’ve learned, in hopes that education and awareness might help remove the stigma and perhaps even help to change laws or rules to make re-entry easier.

So to clarify – we are talking about someone like myself who is no longer on parole or probation, but has “served the time” for his or her crime.

In my case, I was fortunate enough to not do any actual time in jail or prison, apart from a couple hours around my original arrest.  (So I haven’t experienced the “full force” of “re-entry” – of returning to society after serving time for a crime.

For a lot of reasons, including a Higher Power who was looking out for me and some “next right things” I did when I hit bottom and sought help for my addiction, I was fortunate enough to be given a plea bargain and a chance, through probation, to have my felony charges dropped to misdemeanors – if I met the conditions of my plea bargain.  I was doing well at first in 2010, but was over-confident in my ability to stay clean for the first year of my recovery (while I was on probation) – and ended up blowing the terms of my plea bargain.  While I successfully completed the balance of my 12 month term without issue, I found myself “living with” a felony record.

So, what barriers are in place for someone who has served their time, but still lives with a felony record?  In the State of Indiana (some of these are Federal issues, some are State-specific):

  • I can’t get a student loan for tuition assistance to go back to school
  • I can’t get food stamps
  • If landlords run background checks, I’m likely to face barriers securing an affordable, well-maintained place to rent and live
  • If employers run background checks and aren’t educated with new(er) guidelines related to “ban the box” and fair hiring practices, I’m likely to face barriers getting a job.  Learn more at:

http://bantheboxcampaign.org/
http://www.nelp.org/publication/ban-the-box-fair-chance-hiring-state-and-local-guide/

  • I can’t travel to some countries in the world, including Canada (note: the same is true for individuals convicted of a DUI in the US…no travel to Canada!)
ReEntry Scorecard for the Midwest (click on image for details)
ReEntry Scorecard for the Midwest (click on image for details)

 

Two overarching principles emerged as key criteria in the grading system (with 1 being best and 10 the worst):

• State and federal laws should require individualized determinations about the suitability of someone with a criminal conviction for the opportunity, benefit or right sought that takes into consideration the nature of the conviction(s), the time that has elapsed since the conviction(s), the age of the person at the time of the conviction(s) and any evidence of rehabilitation.

• State and federal laws should prohibit government agencies, public and private employers, and others from considering information about arrests that did not lead to conviction when making decisions about a person’s eligibility for employment, housing, or other benefits.

 

Note: since I completed my probation, Indiana has made some steps in the right direction.  After ~8-10 years, under certain conditions, felony records can be expunged – which makes some of the issues/barriers I’m going to talk about mostly disappear.  Records are still accessible to law enforcement of course – but issues of employment, housing, travel – largely become a non-issue.  But, it’s still 10 years until I reach that point…so around 2021.  For details, see:

http://recoveryindiana.org/documents/HB1482_Expungement_FAQ.pdf
http://recoveryindiana.org/documents/HB1482_Expungement_Summary.pdf)

 

To learn more, check out:

http://www.reentrycentral.org/
http://lac.org/roadblocks-to-reentry/
http://www.lac.org/roadblocks-to-reentry/main.php?view=state
http://www.nij.gov/topics/corrections/reentry/pages/welcome.aspx

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2 weddings and a funeral – six lives of “quiet inspiration!”


I recently wrote about a joyous event in my life – my engagement to Brandon, with a ceremony planned for sometime next year. But I’d also like to share the stories of three other couples we’ve come across recently. Their stories, while not uncommon, show the silent strength and courage many have shown, living lives of quiet inspiration!

While onboard our cruise, we came across a same-sex couple who – after 29 years of living together, unrecognized by their home State as a couple – had finally been able to get married last year. Can you imagine – 29 years of life, love and pursuit of happiness…and 29 years of discrimination, lack of legal recognition, and (probably) an inability to celebrate anniversaries as proudly as opposite-sex couples do in such settings. Their story profoundly touched us – helping us to remember that while we were going to be able to consider a legal union in Indiana, many couples had made significant life commitments without the benefits we now have (and hopefully, won’t take for granted).

We wanted to do something special for them – even on a small scale, because their story (in stark contrast to ours) literally brought us to tears. Brandon took one of the roses from our “romance bouquet,” and we walked up to the spa to meet the couple. We gave them the rose, and then shared our stories with one another. Afterwards, there were hugs and kisses – and I know we left slightly more humbled, and slightly more grateful for the changes afoot.

He said yes...but they said "yes" 29 years ago!
He said yes…but they said “yes” 29 years ago!

Last Friday, we attended another celebration of love. A local same-sex couple – together for 19 years – were finally able to “tie the knot.” And while this scene has played out hundreds of times across our State of Indiana in past months, this was the first “wedding” we were attending as an engaged couple.  (Yay!)  So again, it had particular significance for us. And, given my Lenten journey last year in protest of a local bakery, it was particularly exciting to see (and taste!) the amazing custom cake made for the special couple.

Having our cake - and eating it too (quietly...)!
Having our cake – and eating it too (quietly…)!

Marriage in its most basic form is a public celebration of a couple’s love for one another. And while legally, we are now able to participate in this sacred ceremony, in many churches, such unions are still either forbidden by the denominations’ governing laws – or such unions are celebrated nonetheless in some churches, in quiet protest against and in technical violation of their denomination’s governing laws. So while the State recognizes such unions, some clergy, who conduct such unions for their members who want to celebrate their love for one another as well as their faith in God, face serious consequences should word ever “leak out.” So, despite our “progress,” many same-sex couples who have a spiritual life may still go about their public celebration in “quiet inspiration,” keeping photos and specifics out of social or news media for fear of jeopardizing their pastors’ livelihood. Room to grow, I’d say…but still, progress!

And finally, I recently learned of a friend who had a serious car accident as a result of a brain aneurysm and subsequently died after a week long coma at the age of 55. He and his life partner had not chosen to get married – though that would likely not have changed much of what happened afterwards. The living partner still faced rejection from his former partner’s family, in spite of 20+ years of being together as a couple.

I knew something was “up” when I read Ted’s obituary. There was no mention of his partner, Steve, in the list of survivors. REALLY!  How scary – and sad.  Overlooked, forgotten, ignored…choose your poison.  [Unfortunately, I have changed the names, feeling compelled to protect the living partner from any further pain…] I have since learned that not only was Steve not included in the obituary, when Ted’s family decided to “pull the plug” after a week-long coma, they didn’t invite Steve to be at the hospital, at his partner’s side. Then, to make matter’s worse, Ted’s family didn’t allow Steve to attend the funeral.  WTF!

Yes, Governor Pence, in 2015, bigotry and hatred still exist – not just at your State’s level (with the recent passing of your religious freedom law).  But on a very personal level, at a time when someone should be able to grieve and say good-bye to his or her life partner…they find themselves excluded from health care decisions, funerals and more I’m sure.  And sadly, this has been repeated many times, in silent desperation, in spite of our progress on other fronts…

So with mixed emotions, I celebrate the life of these three couples – their love is inspirational.  I hope others agree, and will continue to help us fight discrimination, hatred and bigotry at every level…

Storytelling and Sleeping At Last…


Those that know me (1*), know I’m far from a “current events” guru. I usually hear trends and stories after the fact…  I just don’t watch much regular TV or listen to much radio to stay connected with “the real world.”  And most of it is depressing and repetitive (apart from PBS and some other shows – skipping the frigging commercials that are all about MARKETING and CONSUMERISM…

(*1) no, really know me…you’re few and far who get in to the second or third heart…THOSE are the ones I’m talking about!



Who remembers CBS Sunday Morning – the ORIGINAL (well for my story…the original!), with Charles Kuralt. Classic. Can’t replace or improve upon a great storyteller.  Still a great show (mainstream’s version of PBS news!), but it’s not Charles…  Reminds me…when Garrison leaves PHC (as if that were really possible…PHC without Garrison?  Never), we will lose another monumental talent on the public airways.  Just saying…

And the other living story teller is Mike Mather in my life (ok, there are some others…) – who I consider to be a close friend / BFF far more than I consider him “my pastor.” (*2)  He may be a “white, middle class, heterosexual Christian male” (got all those MAJORITY labels?!) but he is one of the most pigmented, poor, gay, agnostic, “spiritual realist” gender benders you will ever meet.  And he is in the (UMC – United Methodist Church) – but DO NOT HOLD THAT AGAINST HIM.  Please.

(*2) a label that brings a lot of baggage… at least for me, and probably most LGBT folks, or people who “live on the edges” of society.

So, back to me and my story.

Watched Grey’s Anatomy’s “summary” and closing season episodes from last year (*3) and discovered this nugget of creative splendor – “Sleeping At Last.”  Sure, it’s because they Cover for songs from MY generation…and having lived for a month with a 19 year old who epitomizes all that is good and bad about this “Generation Y W U T V” – it was nice to hear something I recognize!  (White rap all sounds the same…sorry!)

(*3) See how far behind I am!?  Not only do I not watch it regularly…but I get my updates from the networks’ prep for season starters…so I am WAY behind, ok



So, check them out.   They were “all that” last year when they appeared on G.A (*4).  And yet…their voices were there long before the “cultural blessing” they got from mainstream TV.

(*4) Like so many of us…we are here, living quiet lives, unnoticed by the mass media that envelopes us. Some of us are making a difference in another person’s life, just maybe…not for the external recognition or validation but simply because that’s who we are. Good neighbors. Good friends. But, that doesn’t sell advertising, “papers” or whatever “moves” today’s marketing engine. So we continue quietly, like a tree falling in the forest…


So anyway.  Here they are:


YouTube Playlist Coming Soon
(I’ll add it to my photography website when I do!)
My Favorite Songs
(*5) And I just learned that Bonnie Tyler is from WALES.  I lived 20 miles from Wales…  “This was the first record by a Welsh artist to top the US chart.  This entered the UK charts at #1, making Tyler the first female singer to do so.”