In October of 2008, my then-girlfriend and I were denied an apartment, forcing us to move back to Arlington from Chicago. At the time I was 26 years old. My family and I were still being punished for a felony theft I committed at 18 years old, even though I had completed the four-year probation.
In the following month, during the housing and economic depression of 2009, I was laid off from my job as a truck driver for the Salvation Army, and my girlfriend went from 40 hours a week at her job to just 15 hours weekly. Every single day I sought employment until finally I was called to be interviewed for a truck driver position in Arlington. Needless to say, I was elated, and my interview went so well that I was hired before I even filled out an application. $16 an hour with full benefits for me and my two kids. But before I walked out the door and after being told to show up for work the next day, I heard: “Oh, wait a minute. I forgot, do you have a felony?”
I replied yes, and both manager and supervisor shared a look. “Well, Arnold, it’s company policy that we can’t hire felons, but you seem like a good guy, and I would like for you to work for us, so I’ll tell you what Imma do. Tomorrow morning I’m going to call headquarters and see if we can make an exception, so call me tomorrow afternoon.”
When I called I was told again: “Sorry, Arnold, it’s company policy.” After thanking him, I hung up wondering: Why was there a policy in place to keep me unemployed?
Weeks later, still hopeful and while driving around seeking employment, I saw a large “now hiring” sign in a shopping center. Immediately I pulled into the parking lot, parked, and put on my biggest smile. While reaching for the door, though, I read another sign: “No felonies.”
I was devastated and could actually feel the walls of this “box” encroaching. Afterward I went and had a talk with my father in which I told him as a last resort I would join the military, knowing full well I’d probably be sent off to war. I knew convicted felons who were allowed to join and saw no other option. He told me he was proud of me. That was the last time I hugged my father. At the recruitment office the next day, I was told that because they had reached their recruitment quota, they were no longer giving felony waivers. From there I went straight home only to be met by the gaze of my girlfriend and kids, eyes wide with fear as they handed me the eviction notice they found on the door earlier that evening. With the lights having been cut off the same day, that night I read the notice over and over again by candlelight. By now “the box” was having an ill effect on my emotional and mental wellbeing, and the pressure to provide demanded my immediate attention.
I don’t know if there’s such a thing as temporary insanity — and by that I mean a degree of mental derangement, unsoundness of mind, or disorganized personality — but I was definitely experiencing it because the next day I had a gun and was no longer looking for a job. Though I cannot explain why I randomly approached a stranger, I can tell you in my desperation trying to take from him only to give to my family that a struggle ensued and although unintentionally, in the end, I killed a man.
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I’m currently taking a philosophy course through a college for prisoners and gave this story as a reply only to be asked this question in return: Do you think society and lawmakers share responsibility for what happened? What I think doesn’t matter. But what you all think does. It is my belief that you all should ban these “boxes” from job and housing applications. As a democracy, know that your decision to abolish these “boxes,” or your unwillingness to, and all future laws you create will be of unimaginable importance, influence, and will have unforeseeable butterfly effects on our community. Thank you for reading my story.