Back in the late seventies my friend Shelly was a third year college student. While celebrating with some of her friends after some school event, all the kids went to a local tavern where somebody gave my friend Shelly a rolled joint. A few minutes later a man approached her and asked if he could buy it from her but Shelly didn’t want it to begin with so she gave it to him. The man offered her $5.00 but she refused it. He insisted that she take the five bucks and he placed it in her hand. Later as she left the tavern, two men approached her and arrested for for dealing drugs.
$30,000 in lawyer fees later, she was sentenced to 10 years probation which was better than the 25 years the state was looking to send her to prison for. At the time of her arrest, she had a bright future as a teacher. Over the next 30 years she struggled to find employment. The only jobs that she could get were under the table jobs as a waitress and offering tutoring sessions. Over time she has made many contacts, proved herself to several high end restaurants and built a comfortable private tutoring business. Those efforts combined with social services and living off the largess of the taxpayer Shelly was able to survive, meagerly. She also had an unerring eye for free food!
Due to the recent proliferation of sex offender laws and other forms of mass hysteria perpetuated by ratings hungry media and voter hungry politicians, more and more businesses are doing background checks. After 30 years Shelly’s name is beginning to resurface as a convicted drug dealer and now her private business and good name which she had struggled so long and so hard to rebuild are suffering. There are more and more private websites now adding to the mix of outing people with records. It used to be only the government who had or posted this information on the internet but more sites and background check companies are beginning to share and propagate this information. A multitude of data harvesters are playing this profitable game with this old information as well. Even restaurants who used to hire anyone, even under the table, are now weeding out people with long past felony convictions. Even if it were sealed or expunged, they are still finding records from various sources.
A friend who worked for ten years at a dead end call center at minimum wage recently lost his job because the company was forced to institute a background check policy to protect society. I would think that the last thing we would want are unemployed former criminals with no money, nowhere to turn and no support, struggling and desperate to survive and provide for a family.
We give our dogs bones so they won’t chew on the furniture and keep them out of mischief. We need to keep desperate people employed so they don’t do anything desperate.
This country is inching closer to the legalization of marijuana. What will happen to people like Shelly who have old records for possession and innocuous sales?