Monday, August 17, 2009

Forgiving a felon: why Michael Vick's situation is the wrong discussion

There are those who say Michael Vick should never play NFL football again, while others say he did his time and deserves a second chance. This debate is about many things, but there's an aspect of it that, as an attorney who has practiced criminal law, concerns me a great deal.

I've met many young men and some young women who get into trouble at a young age. Many times it involves drugs. If they have committed a felony, they face serious hurdles in obtaining employment. In fact, those hurdles can be so high that their chance of reintegrating into society after imprisonment is low and they re-offend.

Efforts to employ felons could stand a great deal of improvement. For example, a program like Felony Franks is found in the "odd news" section, as if the name of the program is the greatest concern.

A Chicago restaurateur has earned praise from the community for hiring convicted felons, but the eatery's name -- Felony Franks -- strikes some as bad taste.

Jim Andrews, owner of Felony Franks, said his goal is to have a chain of the hot dog stores staffed by convicted felons

I'm all for businessmen and women who create programs to hire convicted felons, because we lack enough resources. There are some solutions , like transitional employment that teaches job skills and provides a work history. There are federal and tax credits for hiring felons. But getting business people to give chances to those with a record is difficult in good times and practically impossible during a recession.

I've had many conversations with young people about to leave jail or halfway houses. They call my office and ask what to do. Terrified that they will never be able to get a job, they often cry and express great remorse about what they did. They admit they didn't think it through. I make suggestions. I refer them to people in the community who I know will extend that extra hand. I urge them to use the prison ministry program and, if appropriate, the 12 step programs in the jail to form a network of support. Help can come from many places, I tell them.

I hear back from a few who have made it - far too few. There are many more I never hear back from. I know some go back to jail and, after watching these transitions for over twenty years, I know that the hurdles they face is a part of that.

Michael Vick is not your average felon. He is an extremely talented young man and because of that talent he is at the center of many discussions. But those discussions don't solve the real problem which is, as a society, how we somehow expect those transitioning out of jail to get jobs and housing and become productive citizens, yet provide few, if any, avenues to do so.

What I'd like to see come from this is not a resolution of his unusual situation, but a discussion of what our society can do for the average person who has served his or her time and emerges into society, often unskilled, certainly without the advantages and connections that Vick has. Perhaps this is a good opportunity for all of us to think about things like forgiveness and redemption. Otherwise, we will continue to face high levels of recidivism when convicted felons who really try can't find any honest job.


FridaWrites said...

You're right about that. A high school friend was convicted of possession of marijuana only and couldn't get a job other than in fast food, and he was a smart guy with a good heart. He passed away when my daughter was a baby (eighteen wheeler jackknifed in front of him).

Wheelie Catholic said...

How sad. I've seen it time after time.

william Peace said...

Vick is indeed the wrong convict to discuss. He has the potential to earn tens of millions of dollars something no other convict can match. Vick also has the support of dozens of people who have a vested interest in his success. The average convict is alone, disadvantaged, and the odds of reincorporation into society are long. This is what needs to be exposed and discussed at length.