“Not many people know about my bad boy days. I was charged with ‘Conspiracy to Traffic’ and received a six-year prison sentence. I didn’t like having my freedom taken away from me – I made a promise to myself that I would never forget my time inside and that I would never go back. Six months after my release, I felt like I was forgetting how painful my experience was. That’s when I decided to start volunteering for the Calgary John Howard Society (CJHS) by going to schools and speaking about my experience. It gave me an opportunity to reach out to students in hopes that they would make better decisions, while also keeping the memory of going to prison foremost in my mind. I was fortunate to eventually find employment with an entity where a few did know of my past, but I realized this past had no reflection on what I had to offer. I was able to work at a job that paid a good wage and allowed me to retire comfortably at 65. During that time, I also sat on John Howard Society boards locally, provincially and nationally for 16 years – now I sit on a not-for-profit board in support of seniors’ housing. I applied for and received a pardon (now a record suspension) after retirement – more out of curiosity than need. I have been living two lives since my release from prison. One with my longtime friends and associates at CJHS and one with all of the other people I have met since who have no idea of my past, including most of my family members. I appreciate my good fortune and continue working to ease the discomfort of those less fortunate. I am currently helping five people with their record suspension applications and three of them are barely making enough money to survive. I am also constantly approaching all levels of government to tell them that they need to ease the record suspension process, and more importantly the cost. I’ll keep that up until it happens.”
“My life has taken one hell of a detour. Four years ago, I was at a bar with my coworker, who was drunk and decided that he wanted to drive his truck home. I ran out to stop him and we got into an argument. Someone in the bar heard and called the police. We were arguing for about 15 minutes and, when the police pulled up, the keys were in the ignition, I was in the driver’s seat and my friend was in the passenger seat. I was charged with impaired driving. The police took my license on the spot and a court date was set for the next year. I kept my job for a while, carpooling with a co-worker but, after six months, it became too difficult to coordinate our different schedules and I lost the job. When the court date came, I couldn’t afford a lawyer. The prosecutor offered me a plea bargain and, at first, I rejected the plea, telling her, ‘I’m not pleading guilty to a crime I didn’t do.’ She told me that the charges from the judge would probably be worse if I plead not guilty and that I would lose my license for three years. I decided to take the plea deal out of fear. I lost my license for one year and, when the year was up, I got a letter from the government stating that when I started driving I would need to have an interlock breath test machine in my vehicle for three years. It’s been four years since I lost my license, I don’t have a vehicle and I’m still struggling to find work. In my line of work, most companies expect you to drive to the work site. I’m trying to find work at a camp where I can stay at the job site and I don’t need to drive back and forth. I’d like to get back to work full-time. I’ve been a heavy equipment operator for 15 years. I never expected to be in a place where I could not get a job.”
“I was in an abusive relationship and I felt like I had nowhere to go. Some days he chose to drink over putting food on the table. I didn’t know how to explain to my son that we didn’t have anything to eat. I gave my son the choice to stay with his dad or come with me. He said he wanted to be with me, so we both went to a shelter. Some days at the shelter I would sit down and cry. When the workers asked me if I missed home, I would say, ‘No, when I walked out that door, I was done’ and I would always tell my son, ‘I am going to work as hard as I can to get us out of here.’ I was recently housed thanks to a housing program in the city and I work night shifts at a temp agency to get by. My biggest challenge is gaining full-time employment. When criminal record checks are done, the door gets slammed shut in your face, but I am determined and hard-working. My son is thriving now and that makes me happy. He loves football and welding. I want him to have an education, have his welding and have his sports. KidSport gave him funding to go to football camp and he is doing so well. Right now, I have to be patient and I have to keep going.”
“I was addicted to drugs and living on lower East Hastings, Vancouver. Four years ago, I was in a treatment facility and one night I tried to escape. My room was on the third floor and I thought I could tie my bed sheets together, hang them out of the window and climb down. It was raining out and I couldn’t hang on. I fell 27 feet down to the ground. I broke my back in two places and every bone in my left leg under my knee. The paramedics came and I passed out on the way to the hospital. Ten months after, I overdosed on heroin and the paramedic Narcanned me. When I regained consciousness, he was smiling at me and said, ‘You don’t recognize me do you?’ I said, ‘No, sorry I don’t.’ He told me that he was the same paramedic who took me to the hospital 10 months earlier when I fell. I said, ‘I’ve been looking for you — you’ve saved my life twice now. Thank you.’ It was the next day that I got sober. I had always said, ‘The day I get Narcanned is the day I quit heroin.’ I decided to give my addiction to God. It was God’s strength that gave me the ability to quit drugs and alcohol for good. I went into detox for 10 days and then a treatment facility for six months. I moved back to Calgary and I got my certification as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher. I wanted to work in the field and give back to those who had saved me. I was fully certified and got job offers from Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary but, once they found out that I had a criminal record, they said they couldn’t hire me. I’ve now decided to go back to school and pursue my other passion, which is music. I want to write songs that help others the way music has helped me through the hard times in my life.”
“I worked for eight years installing everything from steel metal doors to bathroom stall partitions. I can’t work in a lot of places because of my criminal record, but I have installed all the bathrooms in the courthouse and the super heavy cell doors in the basement – where they hold hardcore criminals. I have done work in RCMP buildings, hospitals, universities and public and catholic school boards. I have installed every single washroom in the Stampede Grounds, including under the Coke Stage. I have installed lockers in police headquarters and the Westwinds training facility for the Calgary Police. All this with a criminal record.
There is a stigma that people with criminal records are violent or thieves. I am neither. I like doing things for other people – enjoy being thoughtful and brightening someone’s day. Family is a big part of my life. I talk to them, spend a lot of time at home, have dinner with them. I have a best uncle reputation to uphold and like to bake cookies for my nieces. When I go visit them I always have Kinder Surprises. They always ask me, ‘Do you have an eggy?’ I say, ‘Yes, I have an eggy – you have to eat your supper first.’ My mom used to make these toffee cornflake cookies once a year at Christmas and everyone loved them. She would make a huge batch and they would all be gone within a week. I have an entrepreneurial mindset and would like to start my own business making her recipe. The consumable industry is one of the greatest on the planet.”
“I was born and raised in a small town in Ontario. I grew up with a mother who was abusive and a father who drank from sunup to sundown. I used to act up in school so that I would be put in detention and not have to go back home. At 12, I ran away to Montreal and have lived on my own ever since. I went through years growing up of being pushed down and told I am not enough. When things were tough, I used to replay in my head the stories that I wanted to hear to stay positive. I went to counselling and realized that I am okay. I am real. I am happy with who I am. I like seeing the good in people, seeing the positive out of every situation and smiling a lot. Because smiling makes other people smile and that makes me happy. I live life and don’t think of the negative because, if you do, it will gobble you up. I would like to tell people to be free. Live free. The little things won’t matter when you get older and, if you have made it through today, you’ve got victory.
I see beauty in people on the streets. I used to work for the Metro newspaper and I would always stand in the same spot to hand out papers. I would often see the same homeless couple and would smile at them and say hi. Sometimes I would give them change, so that they could get themselves some coffee and stay warm in restaurants on cold winter days. They were always grateful. Other times they would bring me trinkets they would find on the streets. I always think, if I can make someone feel good for one moment, that is one moment less in their life they don’t have to hurt. I became friends with this couple and, one day, I told them I was leaving town and wanted to visit them to drop off some winter clothes. They told me where they would be staying – next to a dumpster and a garage on a given street. When I dropped by later on, they were so happy to see me. They told me to come in, unfolded a cardboard box and offered me a place to sit. They welcomed me better than others would welcome me in their home. Funny how it is, that people who have the least, usually give the most and care the most.”
“Five years ago, I found out that my partner of 24 years had been cheating on me – hours after learning that my mother had just passed. That day, I lost my two best friends and began a spiral road of depression and addiction that led to incarceration. Upon my release, I became homeless. One day, tired of living under a bridge, I tried to commit suicide. It was a police officer who saved me by simply asking, ‘Are you done?’ He later came to visit me at the hospital and took me to my first AA meeting. It was during those meetings that I realized what I was done with was feeling sorry for myself. I have been sober for the last four years. Forgiving myself for the mistakes I have done has been the hardest, but I recently found new hope when an employer gave me a second chance at life by offering me a job. Now I think, if an employer can give me a second chance at life, I can also give myself a second chance. I used to think I was worthless, but now go to work happy and I come home happy. I am strong, confident and believe that in a world of tens – I am an eleven.”