I write this article as someone who, in my younger days, had issues with addiction. Like many people who fall into addiction, I also fell into petty crime and in my late teens was convicted of theft and burglary. I must take responsibility for my actions, but I must also protest at still being deeply affected by this over 17 years later. It’s important to mention that I have not been convicted of any crime since.
In 2005, after spending many years in active addiction, I entered a drug and alcohol treatment centre. This was the beginning of a new life for me. After getting clean, I made a decision to go back into education and gained a degree from a top university. I then took a teaching qualification and started working abroad as a teacher. During this time, I constantly felt like a fraud, unable to disclose my previous convictions as I would have never have been employed if I had. As an overseas English teacher I could only earn half what I could’ve earned had I been able to work as a government schoolteacher, abroad or in the UK. But this is impossible as I will never have a clean DBS check. Prior to teaching I was interested in studying law so made enquiries with the Solicitors Regulation Authority – only to discover it was unlikely I would be able to work in this field either. These are just two examples of where I’ve been stopped in my tracks, unable to move forward with my life. I could cite many more; and every time the feelings of disappointment and anger, at myself and at the system, were totally crushing. I began to feel that everything I had worked hard to achieve was pointless.
In my experience, most people have done something which could have earned them a criminal record, but have been lucky enough not to get caught; whether this was setting off a firework in the street, getting into a brawl or simply a stupid act motivated by peer pressure. How often do we hear about the politician who smoked dope but didn’t inhale? My point is that we all have pasts. Surely someone who has taken responsibility for their past actions should be allowed to rehabilitate fully and not be punished for the rest of their life? Should people like me just accept our lot and enter unchallenging, mundane, soul destroying employment or perhaps claim benefits and sit around in our underpants watching Jeremy Kyle? I have worked hard and struggled to become a better person; to educate myself, to try and find worthwhile employment and lead a fulfilling life. People who have done their utmost to rehabilitate should be allowed to do just that. It can’t be good for the individual or larger society that such a large group of people are held back in this way. The constant feelings of being ‘less than’, or being a fraud and the worry of being found out if you haven’t been totally upfront about your past, are degrading and can be mentally and emotionally crippling. These feelings of degradation do very little for ones self-esteem and sadly for some can lead to a vicious circle of further crime and substance abuse. My choice, and the choice for many, is this: lie and risk being found out because there’s a system in place that’s likely to expose them sooner or later, or be up front and risk rejection.
Now and then a glimmer of hope appears, most recently in the form of the new filtering process brought in earlier this year. It was exciting to think, just for a moment, that in some circumstances I may not have to reveal myself as a second class citizen and a criminal. Sadly, my joy was short lived when, after sifting through the myriad of offences and circumstances which were exempt from the filtering process, I noticed that the system would not benefit me as I had multiple convictions. Anger rose up in my body before collapsing in on me in the all too familiar form of regret and disappointment!
I was asked what name I wanted to use when this article was published; did I want to use my own or a pseudonym? After much consideration I’ve decided to use a pseudonym because I’m not proud of having criminal convictions and, sadly, people make immediate negative judgements if a person has convictions – despite any reparative steps they may have taken. Unfortunately, the current system aims to expose people like me unnecessarily, resulting in many currently law-abiding people being scarred for life.
There is only one conclusion to come to: the system needs to be changed in order to prevent ruining the lives of those who have already paid the price for their crimes.