If it were possible to conduct a flash survey which asked one question of people working a program of addiction recovery, “who in this room has a criminal record?” More times than not, a significant number of those asked would answer “yes.” You may be thinking that it would be a rhetorical question, along the lines of, “can fish swim?” Especially, when you consider that so many addicts and alcoholics are introduced to recovery behind bars, after being sentenced for a possession or DUI charge.
Active addiction takes people to the darkest of places, and the decisions one makes along the road to complete and total despair, more times than not, are considered to be illegal under the law. Those with criminal records who manage to give their life over to a “higher power” and work a program of long-term recovery, often have little recourse for having their legal history sealed. As a result, such people are unable to get jobs several fields, as people with felonies and certain misdemeanors are viewed by employers as being a high risk.
Living a life free from drugs and alcohol is extremely difficult for people with the disease of addiction. Most are able to refrain from using for a time, but without the assistance of a recovery program, many people will not be able to abstain for long periods of time. The old saying, “quitting is easy, staying quit is hard,” could not be further from the truth. Even those who embrace the program, choosing to follow directions, often slip back into active use. Many of those very people have criminal records.
The gifts of addiction recovery are varied, and for some can be limited by the decisions of one’s past. For those who have chosen to turn their life around with recovery, one of the most dangerous things one could do is what is known as “future tripping.” That is, spending time looking to the future and anticipating the outcome. But, if or when things do not work out the way you hoped, it can become easy to view recovery as futile. Easy to start thinking that no matter what you do in the program, you will not be able to shake the wreckage of your past.
Case in point. You join a program of recovery. You follow directions. You witness good things happening in the lives of your recovery peers i.e. landing a good job. You become hopeful that the same gifts will be bestowed upon you. At some point, it dawns on you that your criminal record might hinder your ability to receive the same gifts. A discovery that prompts you to think that recovery is not worth the bother, before you even face some form of rejection and at some point, you relapse. While that description may seem, and it some ways be, a self-fulfilling prophecy; the reality is that one’s criminal past can be a deterrent towards a willingness to recover. And it may be fair to say that more people would be successful in achieving long recovery, if they could truly have a clean start, unhindered by their past legal transgressions.
Well, it turns out that some lawmakers seem to believe the aforementioned thought to be true. U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced a bill that would give recovering addicts who committed nonviolent federal offenses in active addiction, an opportunity to wipe the slate clean, according to a press release from the Senator’s office. The Clean Start Act would give nonviolent drug offenders with certain felonies or misdemeanors the opportunity to petition for their records to be sealed. Such candidates would have to complete a yearlong drug treatment program, and provide six months of service as either a drug addiction recovery mentor or six months of volunteer service. The bill, is another novel piece of legislation introduced in direct response to the American addiction opioid epidemic.
“I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of opioid abuse on individuals, families, and communities in my state and around the country,” said Senator Manchin. “As a direct result of their addiction, many otherwise law-abiding persons have committed nonviolent crimes that result in felony or misdemeanor convictions. Since many employers are unlikely to even consider a job applicant with a criminal record, the impact of a past conviction weighs upon these former addicts long after they have served their time. This all-too-common barrier to employment contributes to the continuing cycle of addiction and incarceration that has been so hard to break. This legislation will give people who wish to reform their lives a clean start and a chance to rejoin their communities.”
Whether, or not, the Clean Start Act passes, it is important to point out that despite having a criminal record that may impact your hire-ability, it is possible to work a program and live a fulfilling life free from substance use. We all have the choice as to whether we let our past dictate the course of our future. Whichever way one’s life goes in recovery regarding employment, freedom from active addiction is always better than the alternative.