counts all the ways that felons, even those arrested for minor drug offenses, end up excluded
from productive life. Depending on where they
live, they can lose, forever, the right to vote, to
serve on a jury, to receive professional licenses,
and to qualify for food stamps and even financial
aid for college. Alexander points to recent research by the National Employment Law Center
that found Craigslist job postings for warehouse
workers and pizza-delivery drivers that explicitly
bar anyone who has committed a felony from
applying. In Ohio, where Alexander lives, a felon
can even be denied a barber’s license.
“You should talk to Kyle,” Boyle told me.
I found him in Homeboy’s crowded lobby,
running interference at Boyle’s office door. Shoaf
is tall and broad-shouldered, with a steady,
thoughtful manner and an easy charm. He grew
up on a Crip block, and got pulled in early. At 18,
he was arrested for assault. He spent most of the
next 10 years in and out of prison.
No one thing prompted him to change. He
was just tired of the life he had. But he needed a
job. All day, he would look for openings and fill
out applications. Each time, he would check a
box, admitting that he had committed a felony.
Nobody called. Finally, filling out an application to work in the deli at
Ralph’s, he stared at the felony box. And he left it blank. He got the job.
For a long time, he was afraid to tell his parole officer. He actually
missed parole meetings, he said, because he was working, and made
up excuses. Finally, he explained. His parole officer asked if his boss
knew he had committed a felony, and he confessed that she didn’t.
“He went to Ralph’s,” Shoaf said. “He said, ‘Did you know Kyle lied
about committing a felony?’ My boss was fine with it. I was one of her
best workers. She was about to move me to register. So my PO went over
her head, to corporate. And they fired me.”
He woke up the next day angry and embarrassed. He packed up his
things and left his halfway house. A few weeks later, his parole officer sent
him back to jail. And he would be sent back again—for a technical violation,
Shoaf said—after he began working at Homeboy in January 2010.
“The day you get out, you have your job back,” Boyle told him. Soon
after Shoaf returned, he earned his promotion, one of only a handful of
homies to make supervisor.
But he was sleeping in his car now. He had been living with his
girlfriend. Then they broke up. For the first few nights, he slept on a
friend’s couch while trying to save up for a security deposit for an apartment. The guy and his girlfriend, though, they argued a lot. One night,
the guy put his hands on her, and Shoaf stepped between them—and
the guy swung at him, and they grappled. After everyone else calmed
down, Shoaf panicked. He had been sent back to prison for far less. He
decided it wasn’t safe to stay with friends.
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