guilty by association

Oddly, enough what is spurring me to write this actually ISN’T the Steubenville horror, although it will make a brief appearance here.  And while I have a LOT of thoughts about it and things to say, I’ll save them for another post.  The reason I reference it here, is that a friend and I got into a discussion/mini debate about whether or not “failure to report a crime” should, in fact, be its own crime.

We talked at length about what that meant — he’s an actual lawyer, and I wish sometimes I had become one, so my interests (sometimes obsessions) in arguing and wordsmithing and mental mindwork could have actually been put to some use or at least legitimized in some way.

So, we went round and about — he, questioning at what point someone actually knows that something is a crime or when they are at duty to report it or when they would be required to put themselves in danger or how it is, or IF it is morally incumbent upon someone to do so, and if NOT doing so should really be criminal.

Me, saying that there are definitely delineations and obvious cases when it is apparent that a crime is being committed — egregious bodily harm, violent acts, sexual assault (for instance), obvious damage to persons or property — and didn’t the law already make certain omissions a crime? Failing to report a murder? Standing by and watching one happen and doing nothing about it? Weren’t there charges for being “an accessory” or “aiding and abetting?”

He gave his reasons, I gave mine. We ended up having to go inside and the argument fell away.

I had another instance this week where I felt like I was “guilty by association.” The place where I work will not hire convicted felons. That bothers me some. I think that any time there is absolutely no room for explanation or second chances, it diminishes the opportunities an organization has to work with people who have really amazing work ethics, incredible creativity, and a ton of gratitude for their new perspective and chance at life.

It also keeps people poised to be stuck in a cycle of recidivism — if you can’t get a job anywhere, it makes going back to do the things you were doing seem like your only option. I can’t imagine trying to make a new start and getting turned down again and again for a past that I could not erase no matter how changed my present was. Felonies aren’t like bankruptcies — they don’t come off your record after seven years.

And the other twisted truth is this: if you have money and are white and can buy a great attorney, you are so much more likely to get a different charge or plea down or not get convicted at all than someone who is poor or of a different color or who is stuck with the public defender who is overloaded and tired and just can’t deal/doesn’t give a shit.

But I digress. The other factor is drugs. So many people who have records have them due to drug charges or things they did to feed their addictions or things they did while high/on drugs or alcohol. Because of this, I happen to know quite a few people who have spent time in jail. And also quite a few people who have spent time in prison. Big jail — long term jail — scary jail. The penitentiary.

Not only do I know these people, but some of them are my friends. My good friends. My best friends.  Some of my closest friends are ex-crackheads, ex-junkies, ex-prostitutes, ex-convicts, ex-felons.  I don’t know what most of them have done to have landed themselves in jail — I don’t ask the details most of the time. That’s a different person, so I don’t feel the need to inquire about someone I don’t associate with. But sometimes, for the sake of others, they tell their stories in public, from podiums in front of strangers.

They’ve left their kids. They’ve sold their bodies. They’ve lied about having cancer. They’ve killed people.

So our boss came down the other day and let us know that some of the applications had been copied wrong; the part where it asks if they had committed a felony had been cut off. That wasn’t any good — we had to have that information.  I said to my co-worker that I wished that could be different, I wished they’d consider hiring felons.  She said something innocuous back to me and then I admitted some of my friends were felons — I said what I have told you here.  She said, “You know people who have killed people?”

And I felt guilty by association.

But, while it would never be my job to introduce her and point out who had done what (although she’d be welcome at any open meeting), I know if she met my friends, she’d love them just like I do — she’d soon be laughing at their jokes and finding out how generous they are. Generous with their time, generous with their laughter, generous with their love.

I don’t worry about their pasts, because they are not the people they once were. I hear their stories and I can’t even imagine them doing the things that are coming out of their mouths. As always, it is not what someone says that is important, but the path in which their feet move that is always what matters. And in that, I hope I am virtuous by association.

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One thought on “guilty by association

  1. Do you realize how many crimes people commit before they are number one caught, and number two finally thrown in the big house? I know numerous defense attorneys. Each one has said the person charged did what the cops say he or she did. In other words all guilty. But to your main point if I knew the history and the “new” path of the person, I would have no problem hiring a felon.

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