This article was featured in the October 2014 Issue of Champion by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers”.
Heart Filled With Hope
I thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences in such a setting. It is rare for someone in my position to be allowed to share my journey. Yet in order to properly rectify the atrocities of mass incarceration, it is paramount. My name is Adryann Glenn. I am a 35-year-old returning citizen, and I was released from the Virginia Department of Corrections on Nov. 25, 2013.
I was raised in Herndon, Va., in a two-parent home. My parents are not college-educated, and throughout the entirety of my young life my father battled his own addiction issues. Money was not something my family was familiar with. We lived check to check, hand to mouth, and on more than a few occasions we lived without.
Education and sports were always my solace. No matter what the economic situation of my family was, the playing field was even on both of these fronts. If memory serves me, I got all “A”s until my first “B” in the eighth grade. As far as athletics, I refuse to lose at anything, so you can surmise the outcome of competition.
Economic disparity will lead one down a path that easily could have been avoided. At the beginning of sixth grade, I was offered a chance to participate in a program for college-bound students. I was ecstatic! I told my mother. After congratulating me, her mood became somber. She bluntly said, “Adryann, if you want to go to college, you’re going to have to do it. I am not, and will not be, in a position to provide you with any help.” There aren’t many job opportunities for an 11-year-old, so I went to the guys in the neighborhood and they began to hone my “entrepreneurial” skills. For the next 19 years of my life in one way or another, I was involved in the illicit sale of narcotics. I did get through college; I even procured some awesome jobs. Always, always, with one foot “in the streets.”
Throughout my incarceration, I planned and planned for my re-entry. Every waking moment and breath was used in order to better myself, so that upon my return I could be a productive asset to society. Sixty days prior to my release, I was told that my home plan wasn’t approved and I had 30 days to find suitable housing. In an instant all of my hopes and plans seemed to crumble.
I wrote letters to various organizations requesting assistance. Due to my violent and drug offense conviction, at every turn they told me I was not eligible. In the 11th hour, my best friend took a second job and secured an apartment so that I would be able to come home.
I don’t blame anyone for the decisions I’ve made, and unlike most people incarcerated I surrendered myself. I wanted out of the life I was in, and I knew that the consequences of that life could not be avoided. I may have benefited more from my time in prison than my time in college. For once in my life I could just get to know me, really focus on the gifts I have, and the best way to use them to help someone else.
On the day of my release, I reported to the probation office staff and told them all of my needs. Food, job, clothing: the basic necessities of life. They handed me a list of resources and sent me on my way. I called every number on that list, and only one organization picked up the phone: OAR -Offender Aid and Restoration. Immediately, the people at OAR provided every bit of assistance I could imagine and much more. Hope began to grow in me again,
and my confidence soared.
I set myself upon the path of getting a job. I wasn’t looking for a job as the vice president of a company. I just needed a basic entry-level job so that I could continue the process of getting my life in order. When I went to my very first interview, I think the hiring manager was more excited than I was. The interview quickly turned to a discussion of growth opportunities, benefits, and how he looked forward to me starting. Then, he looked at my application again, and looked back at me with a helpless look. I knew what had happened. He saw that check mark in the box. He gathered himself and said he’d be in touch. That was last December, and I haven’t heard from him since.
When I say the box, I am referring to the question on the job application asking about an individual’s conviction history. This box is essentially the death knell for individuals with a conviction on their records. According to the National Employment Law Project’s September 2014 Ban the Box report, over 70 jurisdictions have banned the box, which removes the question about an individual’s criminal history and delays the background check inquiry until later in the employment process.
Another interview was with a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. More than
anything else, I just want to give back, in any way I can. I spend a lot of time mentoring, participating in youth ministry, volunteering at shelters, advocating for returning citizens, and doing anything else that God leads me to do. Therefore, a job at a nonprofit is a perfect fit. When I walked in to the interview, the manager already had my orientation packet ready. While I had applied for an entry-level job as a canvasser, he informed me I would be training, doing research, and receiving a salary. In my mind I thought, “Finally! A great job, good pay, doing what I love doing.” We didn’t do much talking about the position; we just spent a half hour getting to know one another.
As I placed the orientation packet in my messenger bag when getting ready to leave, he started to put my application in the cabinet with the other employee files. Then, he stopped short. He said, “Just fill out another application; we’re not going to do a background. All you have to do is ask my secretary to give you another one.” I smiled, thankful for his confidence in me. Then I said, “There are two reasons I can’t do that. One, my faith doesn’t allow me to lie. Two, it’s illegal, and I will never do anything illegal again.” I shook his hand and left.
The last interview I attempted was with a gas station. I interviewed to be the night attendant. The interview story is similar, and the man who owns the company actually played football with me in high school. Once the hiring manger knew that, it was just a matter of compensation. Once again, I had the orientation packet in hand and headed out the door. Heart filled with hope when he calls me back in the office. He asked for the orientation packet back, said they had an updated one that I would receive on my first day. Six months later, I still haven’t received that orientation packet.
I did receive some temporary employment through spring 2014. Another OAR client was working on a political campaign and needed people to work in the phone bank. Although it was only 12 hours a week, for minimal pay I was excited at the chance to make some money. Within two weeks I went from working in the phone bank to training new employees, to escorting the candidate to various events, to finally coordinating events. As the campaign winded down, everyone on board spoke to me about employment opportunities. Then they found out about my past. Though I still speak to all of them, no one has ever made good on those offers of employment.
My Life Now
Currently I’m attending school for cosmetology and interning at a Barber shop. A good week means I take home about $60. In the coming weeks, I’ve picked up some side work helping teach basic computer skills to seniors and returning citizens. Additionally, I intern for a jazz label in D.C. All of these opportunities are a result of my family at OAR. I call them family because that is what they are to me.
The stigma of being an ex-offender is debilitating. My education isn’t even a factor when I go on job interviews or meet people. The fact that my first book was published and released while I was still incarcerated holds no weight. That I operate an online ministry and spend the majority of my free time giving back means nothing. All people see when they look at me is an ex-con.
Because of my mistakes, I’m forced to live on the fringes of society. At times I feel like a runaway slave hoping that I don’t get caught again. I have served my time and dealt with the consequences of my actions. I made amends for the wrongs I’ve done, and I refuse to live as a second-class citizen. I refuse to accept that the minds of people cannot be changed. It’s easy to incarcerate, but it takes real effort to rehabilitate.
I applaud all of you who are making that effort; if you are not making that effort, I implore you to begin. Incarceration affects us all in one way or another. It’s time to call to task these corporate entities making a living off the prison industrial complex.
They made big tobacco do something about the collateral effects of its products. When are they going to do the same with this system? How many ex-offenders do they employ? I would love to see those numbers.
I hear people talking about the recidivism rate and the demonetization of the men and women trapped in this revolving door. Who is looking at the root causes? Who is trying to change laws and rules so that people are not denied the basic necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter – just because they have a criminal record? I don’t know the formula, and I’m sure there is no instantaneous fix for these issues. But, I am confident that the individuals and organizations gathered here will be successful in helping to make what I dream to become reality.
Thank you for your time, your ears, and Your hearts. Be blessed and
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