I was recently interviewed by Harry Fadiss on his radio show, The Quest of Life. It’s a long, in-depth interview, and we talk about writing, gay and lesbian culture, addiction, and “trying to find the humanity in everybody.” I hope you will have a listen.
I was on Anderson Cooper’s show Wednesday night to talk about sex addiction. I’ve been on his show before to discuss my New York Times Magazine cover pieces, and as usual Anderson asks smart questions and seems genuinely interested in an intelligent and nuanced discussion. Check out the six-minute segment here.
Today, I received an email from Ian Knowles, the director of RICARES (RI Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts). I am printing it here in its entirety. Please support this cause!
We are collaborating with Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) to introduce legislation that will remove from job application forms the question about prior criminal convictions or arrests. This is usually in the form of something like, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” – then there are check boxes for ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
This national movement of this initiative is known as ‘Ban the Box.’
The background is this: The recent report that addresses substance abuse and America’s prison population, from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, begins:
“Of the 2.3 million inmates crowding our nations prisons and jails, 1.5 million meet the DSM IV medical criteria for substance abuse and addiction, and another 458,000, while not meeting the strict DSM IV criteria, had histories of substance abuse; were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of their crime; committed their offense to get money to buy drugs; were incarcerated for an alcohol or drug law violation; or shared some combination of these characteristics…”
We know that Rhode Island has over 100,000 residents with convictions.
We know that for ex-offenders with substance use disorder to have a sustained recovery there are three key needs: treatment and/or recovery support services, housing and employment.
We know that lack of a legitimate job fosters criminality and that, conversely, having a legitimate job diminishes criminal activity.
We know that many of us have been able to take advantage of the second chance that recovery has given us to become positive and productive members of society. Recovery is possible.
Too many potential employers will see the ‘yes’ checked and immediately discard the job application. The result is that a person who is qualified for the job and who is working hard to sustain recovery, doesn’t even get a chance.
One of the results of this, and we think that it is an unintended consequence, is that an underclass of folks continues to grow who end up re-cycling back through the criminal justice and corrections system, at great financial cost to Rhode Island, and at greater personal cost to so many who lose that second chance.
Our proposed bill would take the question off the initial job application.
This would not apply to jobs that: by law prohibit a person with a criminal record, that are professions such as law enforcement, that are professions that work with vulnerable populations, such as children, the disabled, and the elderly, etc.
The proposed bill does not prohibit a potential employer from asking the question at the job interview. But at that time, the applicant would have the opportunity to specify how far in the past the conviction occurred, the nature of the crime, one’s age at the time, evidence of rehabilitation and recovery, and other mitigating circumstances.
We know that people can and do change, and implementation of this bill would provide an important example of that.
Many cities have passed some variation of ‘Ban the Box’ legislation. They include: Boston, New Haven, Hartford, Baltimore, Chicago, Austin, and San Francisco. Also, it is state law in Minnesota, New Mexico and Hawaii.
Our bill requires that the State and all of the State vendors remove the question from their job applications.
Find out more about RICARES here. Find out more about Ban the Box here.
*Be sure to check out my prolific friend Jonah Lehrer’s excellent cover story, “Depression’s Upside,” from yesterday’s New York Times Magazine. While you’re at it, check out his two excellent books–Proust Was a Neuroscientist, and How We Decide. Not only is Lehrer (pictured above) annoyingly brilliant, but he’s very sweet and very handsome. (And, sadly, married.)
*Ted Conover is one of the best nonfiction writers—and nicest guys—working today. A master of immersion journalism, his 2000 book Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, is a harrowing look at the time he spent as a prison guard. He now has a terrific new book out called The Routes of Man, about roads and their power to change the world. Ya’ll should buy it.
*Adam Haslett is one of my favorite fiction writers–his 2002 short-story collection, You are Not a Stranger Here, is one of the best short-story collections of all time. He has a new book out, Union Atlantic, which is getting great reviews and which I can’t wait to read.
*If you missed Benedict Carey’s fascinating recent New York Times piece about the power of human touch, you’re forgiven and can read it here.
© 2009 Benoit Denizet-Lewis
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