Blog: The Long Walk to Dignity

By Alicia Newton

As I walked across the bridge to join other 9to5 members and community advocates to stand together in support of eliminating barriers to reentry for people with criminal histories, I thought about the elderly lady at one of our 9to5 “Ban the Box” meetings. In her late 60’s or early 70’s, she told us about being denied housing in a senior citizens building because of an arrest thirty years ago.

Soft spoken and humble she had been a productive member of society for over thirty years and it still was not enough. I thought about the look of hopelessness on the faces of husbands and fathers who knew they could not take adequate care of their families because they would not be considered for employment because of past mistakes.

Checking the box “yes” I have been arrested or convicted of a crime is often an insurmountable hurdle for people seeking employment or housing. It was that look of hopelessness and hurt that had me walking across the bridge into the James H. Sloppy Floyd State Building to represent 9to5 at the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support, and Reentry policy meeting.

Seeing our coalition of community advocates fighting for the rights, dignity, and an end to discrimination against reformed citizens while promoting proven policies and best practices was powerful!

I watched 9to5 Georgia Director, Charmaine Davis, talk about the barrier questions on applications about past criminal histories present for reformed citizens seeking employment.

Charmaine shared our 9to5 strategy that won a “Ban the Box” policy change in the City of Atlanta.

Other advocates spoke about the need for reform. The issue is complex. We clearly articulated the need for comprehensive reform to enhance the chance for reformed citizens.

I had an opportunity to share with the policy committee just how powerful stereotypes are and how easy it is for a human resource manager with no real knowledge of an applicant to judge the applicant based on a past mistake rather than their current skills and qualifications.

I left that meeting hopefully optimistic that 9to5, in concert with our allies, will make changes that enhance the lives of women and families struggling in a system that, if left unchallenged, will continue to strip the dignity, economic security, and rights of reformed citizens.

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