So you walk into a job interview with a bachelors degree in business, countless certificates in real estate, computer knowledge and experience working in the not-for-profit arena. But there lies the question before the interview starts: “have you ever been convicted of a felony?” Or better yet, during the interview you’re asked: “we have to do a criminal background check on you.” What an uncomfortable feeling this must be for the 1-in-3 black men who are said to have a felony conviction on their record.

I thought that once you have served your time, you are deemed fit to re-enter society; a new man ready to start anew. But the blatant discrimination still exists. You have all of these credentials. You’ve changed for the better, got educated, embraced God, and started a family – and have been incarcerated. But though you get job offers, you never get the actual job because your background is a concern to someone. Is that justice?

If 33.3 percent of black men have a felony conviction and are faced with these issues, what is the true answer to this problem? The answer to the problem is that convicted felons should be added to the protected class of citizens, according to the Illinois Human Rights Act, whereas discrimination cannot exist on the basis of a conviction. This means that once released, people with a background are born-again citizens with all of their legal rights restored – no additional paperwork necessary, you have a fresh start. The past would then be the past and people would be able to move forward in life. If the current way of doing things persists, recidivism will continue to rise and the revolving door will continue to turn.

The bottom line is: if someone makes a bad choice early in life, should they be punished indefinitely to a life of poverty? Or, steered right back to the penal justice system when they have made the necessary life changes? Are real careers/jobs that pay a life sustainable salary/wage available to those who have a felony upon release? These critical questions need answers. Many people who return from prison are some of the most well-read individuals alive with credentials – all they need is access to opportunity.

Joe Carter