I Am More Than My Criminal Record

I Am Disciplined

“Drinking was my downfall, my gateway drug to crime. I was never afraid of going to jail because I was always drinking, consequences meant nothing because I wasn’t sober. One of my more serious incidents was when I was told that I got so drunk, I shot a gun in a house – no one was hurt, but I woke up in jail.

At first, I would call people once a week, then once every few weeks, then once a month. Eventually, I stopped calling people, I didn’t want to know they were having fun. Every time I got out and went back in, I went back for longer. One day I thought to myself, ‘a bad day outside is better than a good day inside’ and I came to the realization that I have a bigger purpose in life than to fill a jail cell. While incarcerated, I would remind myself of that lesson, ‘I am more than an inmate.’ The seed was planted. I began to view myself and my life in a different light. I met a girl who had me thinking about the future – something I never considered before. Upon release, I deleted Facebook and didn’t talk to anyone, other than her and my sister. I didn’t want any bad outside influences interfering with my goals. The way I saw it, a $3 beer was the cost of my freedom, so I quit drinking. When I quit drinking, I was reborn. I left behind all the childish stuff a boy holds onto – the drinking, the partying and the consequences that come with that garbage.

I started working for a company that knew my history. I have a good work ethic and had to prove myself to them so I took every shift I could. I became an Apprentice Glazier and got my Red Seal certification. I went from making the 6 O’Clock News to making $36 an hour within a year and a half, and I just got another raise to $38! I hit the gym at 4:40 a.m. like it’s a job, then I’m off to work, almost daily.

I recently bought a house with the girl who changed my life, but my most recent purchase might be my favourite – a Harley Davidson paid for in cash that I earned at my job. I still experience setbacks because of my past. My bank denied my mortgage because of my criminal record and I had to get it through a credit union.

I earned my current life because I quit drinking and associating with people who wouldn’t grow up – and didn’t want me to grow up. My goals now are hobby-related. I hope to do bodywork restoration in the future but, for now, I ride my Harley or get tattoos – it’s cheaper and less risky than my previous life style. Everybody wanted me to change but I wasn’t ready — you need to want the change. I think I always wanted a better life, but I wasn’t ready to earn it until I lost everything I thought I needed.”

I Am Caring

“Last time I was in jail I was completely broken. When I was eight years old, I got aseptic meningitis and became half-paralyzed. My parents would always fight and I had it in my head that it was because of me. There were always drugs around my house and different people coming in and out. I always knew what was going on, but I tried to keep my little sister sheltered from it. She is two years younger than me and had a stress related ulcer by the time she was 10. One day, my mom took my sister’s backpack and left. I grew up thinking that she left because I got sick and somehow it was all my fault. I did my best to take care of my sister, kept us fed and did everything I could to protect her.

We were put into foster care a month or two after my mom left. My mom did her best to get custody of us after she got settled and my sister and I eventually moved in with her. I was so confused, had a lot of resentment issues and was angry at the world. Things did not work out and I moved back with my dad for a while and then my grandma, where I was able to complete high school. I began experimenting with drugs and eventually became an addict. I was in and out of prison for a long time. I thought that I was going to end up dead or in jail my whole life but, one day, I got a Facebook message from my mom that said, ‘Hi my earth angel. I hope you find happiness in this world. I love you.’ I began a relationship with her again and with my little sister. That year I said, I am going to stop. I am done. When I left jail the last time, I went straight into treatment and did 70 days of rehab.

Now I live with my sister and I am really close with my mom. I have realized that mom did what she had to do when I was growing up and it wasn’t my fault. My hopes are to find work part-time and go to college. I would like to take addiction and community counselling. Before I was clean, I could be in a fully crowded room and I would feel alone. I would like to show people that they are not alone and that, no matter how horrible it feels, it can change. I recently got a tattoo. The black symbolizes the darkness that I have walked through, the dotted white parts are the emptiness that I have felt and the colorful part in the middle is the beauty that I have found in life and in myself.”

I Am Victorious

“There were so many years that I could not look at myself in the mirror for the things I had done and people I had hurt. I always knew I was meant for greatness; I just did not know how to get there, but God came in like a flood and transformed me from the inside-out. In 2015, I lost two of my part-time jobs in the course of a week due to layoffs, and looking for work with a criminal record was difficult. I didn’t know how I would survive or pay the bills, and later went on to take a Women’s Venture program that offers guidance and start-up loans for women entrepreneurs. I decided to start my own cleaning company and I registered my business, Royal Ambassador Professional Services, in 2016.

Right now, I have two commercial and 11 residential cleaning contracts. I’ve also had the opportunity to employ a neighbour. She is a young mom that had no previous work experience, but now she works with me occasionally and can better provide for her daughter. A job builds confidence and my goal is to hire people at a living wage. People need to know that they are valued, able to pay their rent and support their families. If people aren’t even making enough to cover their bills, it can be very discouraging. I remember what that was like and I want to make sure I’m paying my employees a fair wage.

My life is really not about me, it is about being part of and supporting my community. My vision for my business is that it will be a platform to assist my community and empower economic change and growth. I have gone through many difficult times in my life, but the things that have happened to me have helped me to be more compassionate, more loving and more understanding. My criminal record is just a piece of paper and not a reflection of who I am. When I was asked to do this story, fear crept in and I thought to myself, how could I have my picture on social media? I know I am not supposed to be worried about what other people think. What really matters is who God says I am. That same night I read a verse from scripture that said, ‘One night, the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent for I am with you’. Then I thought, how could I not show my face? God has brought me a long way. I am loved by God. I am strong. I am victorious.”

I Am Honest

“I came from a dysfunctional family. My mom was an alcoholic and there wasn’t a lot of food in our fridge. I started hanging out at arcades and with the wrong crowd at a young age and I made bad choices. I could have gotten a job, but I didn’t. It wasn’t my mom’s fault or anybody else’s fault. My circumstances were a bit of a catalyst for my decisions, but I don’t lay blame on anyone. There was a cop that busted me once for selling weed, but let me go and said, ‘I know you’ve got drugs, but I won’t do anything. If you don’t smarten up when you come to age, I am going to nail you’. His name was Richard and they called him Tricky Ricky because he used to go undercover and bust people. One day, when I turned 18, he busted me as I got off the ferry in Nanaimo and I ended up serving my time at Wilkinson Prison.

When I did my time in jail I was angry and fighting the system, but one day a guy showed up to talk to me. He worked for the John Howard Society and had a ponytail. He told me a story about Gulliver’s Travels. He said, ‘You are going to be like the giant who gets tied down by little people. You are young and have a criminal record. Society will be the little people who will tie you down. I will come along and put hot coals on your stomach and you will have to struggle really hard to take those coals off. You have to be amongst the 20% of people who walk out of here and never come back. When that man walked out of the room, all I could see was his ponytail swinging past the door and I had a smile on my face. That was a life-changing moment for me. When I left jail I, told my mom that I needed to get away from the crowd and I moved to Calgary. I put my pride in my pocket and I got a job at a bar. I cleaned vomit, I cleaned toilets, I was a dishwasher and had every crappy job possible, but my paycheques were honest. My money was honest and I was proud of that.

I started with nothing and a criminal record. I don’t hide it, I am not embarrassed. I am not ashamed of where I came from. If anything, it made me stronger. When I was young, my Grandma used to tell me, ‘You have such gifts. If you could just use it for something legal.’ She was such a nice lady, she used to have a huge yard and would pay me to pick the weeds and do some work on it. Sometimes I would sit by her veranda to smoke weed and read comics. She would often come out in her bathrobe and yell, ‘Duane, get a move on!’

In my late twenties, I saw an ad in the Bargain Finder that people were renting their trucks for hauling stuff. I had a 1979 Chevy and decided to do the same. I used to haul a lot of garbage and I had a lot of Kraft Dinner and cheap meals. Six years later, I got myself a bigger truck and started helping people move and do deliveries. My Grandma was so happy when I called her one day to tell her that I had started my own business and had called it ‘Get A Move On’. Her mouth just about dropped from disbelief. I had difficult days and put in hard work, but it paid off. You get out of life what you put into life. I’ve had my business for 20 years now. I have clients that call me back because they know I am honest and fair and I never hide the fact that I have a criminal record. Just because you went to jail, it does not mean you are a bad person. As a human being you deserve a second chance. I give people second chances and I am more than happy to share my story hoping that, in the end, it touches somebody and helps them find the proper path. I now have a boat on the Shuswap lake and I take my dad fishing. I feel good about myself and feel accomplished. It is nice to have material things, but that is not what really matters. I always say, you only answer to one person in your life, and that is the person you see in the mirror when you brush your teeth. It is a good feeling when I look in the mirror. And that’s what counts.”

I Am A Dad

“When I was six years old, my mother sat me down and said, ‘We are moving and dad is not coming with us.’ Before I could process the idea of my dad not living with us, my mother said I was now going to be the man of the house. Within a week or two, my mom, my brother and I moved to a 12-storey apartment building called Friendship House. There I was, six years old and the man of the house. My job every morning was to drop my little brother off at the babysitter, catch the bus to school and return home to an empty apartment. My mother taught me how to lock and unlock the door and she instructed us to be very quiet. No one could know we were home alone or she could get in trouble and go to jail.

Growing up in the hood, we didn’t have a lot of role models, so I wanted to be a drug dealer. The drug dealers had the nice cars, the girls and the money. Before I knew it, I was on the streets selling drugs and getting in fights all the time. I was in and out of jail for 10 years and realized there was one common denominator – drugs. My first daughter was born while I was in prison. We spent three-and-a-half years getting to know each other across a visiting room table. The last time I was incarcerated I read a book called ‘The Purpose Driven Life’. It was then that I found my purpose in life. While locked up, I started writing a five-year plan. In my plan, I wanted to be a part of society and a positive member of my community. I decided I wanted to be an addiction counselor. One of my life goals was to get a master’s degree. Another life goal was that I wanted to be a better dad. I was released from prison on June 10, 2010. My five-year plan was my road map for the next chapter of my life. I had just been released from prison and I wasn’t sure if I had a chance, but I knew I was going to try anyway.

When I got home I had one shirt, one tie, and my old pair of black shoes that I shined up with some Vaseline to make them shine like new. I applied for my first job as a Peer Recovery Specialist with an agency in town. I showed up clean, with my shirt ironed and my shiny pair of shoes. During the interview, they asked me if I had any experience in corrections and I said that I had 10 years. Then I went on explaining that my experience came from being incarcerated. The interviewer told me she would be in touch. I didn’t think they were going to call me back, but I received a phone call a week later and they asked me to come see them again. They wanted to tell me that they were interested in hiring someone with lived experience to support and encourage people. I got the job and years later went on to get a bachelor’s and master’s degree and accomplished many other life goals. I am now the Director of the Office of Recovery Community Affairs for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, State of Connecticut. One day while working with a client, I saw a prosecutor I knew from years ago when we were in court. He was surprised to see me working on the legal side of the fence and said, ‘You give me hope.’ I thought, ‘You gave me time, and I give you hope?’ My life has changed a lot in eight years.

The biggest change is that I have been given another chance at being a dad. Being a dad is the best job in the world. Now I am there for my kids. I moved my kids from the hood to a nice neighbourhood. I have a nice house with a swimming pool, where my kids can grow up not worrying about violence. I also have the opportunity to share and give others hope. If you get even a small piece of hope from my story, that’s better than any high I have ever had. I even coach 12-year-old youth basketball. Even though there was a season where we didn’t win a game, the important thing was the relationship I built with those kids that didn’t have dads. For a long time, I wanted to a part of a community and a better citizen. Today, I can proudly say, I am that.”

I Am Creative

“I grew up in a small town in BC and left home when I was 14. I fell in love and moved to a different town with my boyfriend. I started using drugs recreationally and became very active in my addiction. On my 19th birthday, my house was raided and I was charged for multiple offenses. My boyfriend and I decided to move to Alberta and start a new life. We both wanted to be clean and needed a fresh start, but we met the wrong crowd and got into even worse trouble. We both ended up getting arrested, were taken to the courthouse and placed in cells across from each other. That’s when he proposed. Before I got out of jail, he had arranged for the engagement ring to be placed in my property. He came out of jail shorty after and we got to spend five days together before I had to go back in. While inside, I called my mother to see how she was doing. She asked me how my day was and then proceeded to tell me that my fiancé had overdosed and died. When I got out, I went downhill and was arrested for a third time. It finally set in that he was gone and that my life would never be the same. This time when I got out, I went to rehab and got clean. I had always wanted to be a photographer and have my own business – I am creative and skilled with Photoshop and InDesign. I like creating things that are my own – not ordinary. I tried applying for a job but, when I was in the interview, the employer asked me if I had a criminal record. I replied honestly and was asked to leave right after. I felt useless – now I don’t apply for jobs that might require a police information check. I also looked into doing post-secondary schooling and was surprised that the program I wanted to take also required a police information check. I’m not sure about my future now. I am not my charges. I have realized that if I wasn’t in jail that it could have been me that overdosed, instead of my fiancé. Now I don’t even consider the thought of using. He is my source of strength. He lives on through me because I am clean.

This is a photo I took of the last time we were together, combined with a drawing I drew for him – our hands in the shape of a heart! It also has the nicknames we called each other. It has every aspect of who I truly am, all in one.”

I Am Thankful

“My dad lived in the fast lane. He was a womanizer who used to smoke and drink. My mom is the one who kept the family together. From the ages of 4 to 13, she would take me to church but I stopped wanting to go and started getting into trouble. I followed in my father’s footsteps and became addicted to nicotine, alcohol and marijuana. At the time, having fun was the most important thing in life — this led me to frequent bars and discotheques in the pursuit of wine, women and song. When I was charged, it seemed trivial and my thoughts were to simply pay a fine and move on. My criminal convictions are a result of being high or drunk and it has affected my life in many ways — I was declined jury duty, have been refused entry into the USA, and turned down for a job that I applied for. This has had a big impact in my psychological well-being. I continuously revisit all the negative experiences, even though my last charge was over 15 years ago. Around the turn of the century, I started some soul-searching and seriously considered the true meaning of life — my mom passed away and it seemed like I had finally come to my senses. In remembrance of when she used to take me to church all those years, I started reading scriptures and found my Lord Saviour, Jesus Christ. I also took a life skills program in 2002-2003 and, since then, I have successfully given up all drugs and alcohol. My outlook on life changed drastically. Now I don’t even consider doing mischievous things. I am thankful that I am still alive, that I have moved past many things and, mostly, that I was led back to the truth. I am clean and sober and convinced that I will never again return to that lifestyle of which I am ashamed.”

I Am A Mom

“The last time I went to jail, I knew it was going to break me or make me. I had been in and out for many years and was tired of being a phone mom; it was depressing not being able to see my kids. I wanted to be more than a statistic, more than a number and more than a drug addict – I wanted to be successful in life and not be looked down on. Before I got out, I decided to set goals for myself. I went back to school and took an office administration diploma. I graduated ahead of time, but I couldn’t find an office job because of my criminal record, and had $13,000 in student loan debt I needed to pay off. I thought, ‘Why am I still being punished if I’ve served my time?’ Though it was hard to stay positive when I couldn’t find work in my field, I have managed to stay clean for three years. Eventually, my friend helped me get a job at a landscaping company where I busted my butt working 12-hour days, sometimes up to 12 days in a row. I am now 18 weeks pregnant and it is very tiring, but I am so happy to have a job. I also feel lucky because the people I work with know that I have a criminal record and I don’t feel judged – I can be real without feeling like I am hiding something. I work hard, am a quick learner and my initiative always gets me promoted. Recently, I got my license and now I’m trusted with the keys to the dump truck. I love that I have been given extra responsibilities. My next goal is to save up money to buy a house. I want my children to have a place to call home and know that they are loved and not alone.”

I Am A Grandma

“I never thought I would see the inside of a jail. I was in a bad relationship with a man that was controlling and abusive. One day, he drank so much that he stopped on the side of the road and fell asleep on the wheel. The cops found him and he was picked up for impaired driving. He wanted to get away from being charged and asked me to get a receipt from a mechanic stating that the truck had been worked on recently, so that he could prove that the truck was inoperable. My name was written on the receipt when I picked it up and my ex gave it to his lawyer. Eventually the receipt was used in court proceedings and I was charged for aiding and abetting to perjury. I got sick from the stress. I was rushed to emergency one day because I had a tear in a main artery and my doctor thought I was having a stroke. I started getting epilepsy attacks after that and I lost my job due to illness. I was okay with that because I didn’t want to tell my employer that I had to go serve a sentence. I had to do my sentence intermittently when my ex was not working, so that he could look after my underage son while I was in jail. I did six days in, 15 days out and it took me almost a year to complete my sentence. The hardest part of all was that my grandson was born the day I went into custody. I wasn’t there when my daughter gave birth. That is something I can never get back. I have since left the relationship and would like to obtain full-time employment, but it has been difficult. I want to be able to support my family and spend time with my kids and grandson.”

I Am Resilient

“‘I Had a Good Get Go.’ That’s what my dad would have said. I was adopted, but I couldn’t have gotten luckier. I was raised with total love from both my parents and all the critters at our farm. Then I ran into a two-legged that stole my heart (a man). Even though I was only 17, I knew he was the one. So we loved, worked and created a business. Soon after, my father passed, then my favourite aunt passed, as well as my mom and then Nana. The man I fell in love with got a sore back that didn’t go away. He was diagnosed with cancer and he was gone three weeks later. That was the hardest funeral. After that, I gave away most tools, sold our house and our saw, which was like our wedding ring. One day, I went to a pub to have a beer and I was drugged by a man at the bar. He kidnapped me, assaulted me and withdrew all the money from my bank account. I later found out I had been missing for 15 days. Before I knew it, I was homeless and living on the street. I was so hurt and emotionally destroyed. It took less than a day on the street to find out crack makes you wake up and feel no pain. Soon I accumulated charges. One day, I walked across the road to an empty parking lot and sat down on a curb. When I looked up, I could see the AADAC building, a recovery centre. I looked back down, and there was a pile of pennies beneath my feet. When I found pennies, it meant something really good or really bad was going to happen. This time there was about 200 of them. I swear my mom had something to do with them. She used to collect them. I went to AADAC for three months and got sober. Now I am growing older and I need to find a new career. These charges that are more than 10 years old may be standing in my way. Stuff can happen to anybody; I thought I was safe and that my life would never change. Shit happens, it can happen to anybody and rather quickly too.”