Trying To Get A Job With A Felony Conviction
When I handed my job application to the manager of the Old Country Buffet, he wanted to sit down with me immediately. He was excited to see the two years of mess hall experience and thought that it would be a great fit for his establishment. He continued down the application and his facial expression changed abruptly.
His next words were, “Uh, it seems like we got in a little trouble here. When did you get out of prison?”
I answered, “Last week.”
The manager replied, “Well, it looks like you don’t have the type of experience that we are looking for here.”
As I looked up and into the kitchen area, I saw what looked like high school aged employees moving around doing various tasks. I was dumbfounded. How could he be so excited about my experience and then, a minute later, feel like it wasn’t enough? It was doubtful that the guys I could see in the kitchen had anywhere near the experience that I did. Was he really going to discriminate against me because of my history? What was he worried about?
Even with all of the job applications that I filled out at the mall, I was okay with not hearing back from any of them; I could convince myself it was not a big deal. This was the first time I had to deal with a face to face rejection. It hit me pretty hard. As I got up from the table, I mumbled, “Okay,” and left. This was quite a blow to my confidence and I began to doubt myself.
Would every interview be like this?
Would I ever be able to get a job?
Was anyone going to hire me?
Deciding to regroup, I went back home and grabbed the classified ads. In the jobs section, I found a cash paying job that involved assembling carnival rides for a local event called September Fest. My siblings’ friend Mick said that if I went, he would go as well. He said he could use some extra cash. The ad said to show up at 8:00 am at a specific address and jobs would be assigned.
The next morning, we drove to the address which ended up being a field littered with ready-to-assemble carnival rides. We both walked up to the small group of people standing around a person that seemed to be the foreman. The group of people seemed to be regular “Carnies;” they were a rag tag bunch of misfits. As we drew nearer to them, we caught a whiff of what seemed like a month of not bathing. The heat of a Nebraska August intensified the smell.
The foreman told a few of the Carnies to go do specific tasks and then he assigned us to one particular guy. He was going to need assistance opening and securing a couple of the rides. Mick and I were given mallets and the Carnie started doing his thing. As the pieces of the ride came together, there were pins that had to be put in place and then hammered in. Some of them went in very well and others not so well. When I brought it to the Carnie’s attention, he said not to worry about it. I made a mental note to never ride another carnival ride again.
The time went by pretty quickly because we kept busy. Around noon we stopped for lunch. To save money, Mick and I had brought our own. Eating was a challenge because of the strong body odor coming from all of the workers. We choked down our food and got back to work. We were able to get a few rides assembled but had to stop around 4:00 pm to break for the day. The foreman had a wad of cash and was handing out $50 dollar bills. We both took ours and left.
The next morning, I called Mick to see if he was going to come with me again. He replied, “No, it’s not worth it.” So, I headed back to the field by myself and worked another day. It was hard work, it was hot, the smell was terrible and there was no satisfaction in doing mindless labor that wasn’t one hundred percent correct. After my second day, I decided to go back to Galvin Road and try again. This time, I would try a different approach.
The next place I tried, was at ShopKo, a Midwest retail store. Immediately after entering, I asked for an application and quickly filled it out, making sure to check the felony check box. Then, I asked to speak to whoever was doing the hiring. A large man with red hair came out to greet me and I shook his hand as we headed back to his office.
He seemed pretty reasonable, so I started talking before he read the application. “Sir, I need to be honest with you. Three years ago, I made a huge mistake. This mistake landed me in prison. During my time there, I did a lot of growing up. I am enrolled in school and I need this job to support myself. If you hire me, I can guarantee that I will be one of the hardest working employees you will ever have.”
With a surprised look on his face, he sat there for a minute. He thought about what I said and then he stuck out his hand to shake mine and said, “I’m going to give you a shot.” Smiling back at him I replied, “Thank you so much. You won’t regret it.” After filling out some paperwork and taking a tour of the store, I felt the best I had in a while. It was such a good feeling to know that I was employable, even with my history.
For the next few months, I worked as hard as I could while preparing to start Cosmetology school. The store was going through a remodel and so there were lots of extra hours and overtime. It was a good time to be employed there. Being able to stockpile some money would make going to school easier.
Eventually, in October of 1992, two months after being paroled and starting my first job, I received an official letter from the Department of the Army. Inside were my separation documents. Enclosed was a letter stating that my case had been finalized and that my Dishonorable Discharge was effective as of 21 September. In the letter, I was instructed to return my military I.D. card immediately. Included was a self-addressed stamped envelope to send it back.
And that was it, I was no longer a soldier.
I didn’t realize the full effect of this moment until September 11, 2001.