Would you hire or recommend a person with a felony for a job?

• What is a felony?
• Do people with felonies deserve a second chance in the workforce?
• The felon in Les Miserable.

First of all, this article is dedicated to Don and Lola Compton, who have led Shalom Ministries for over 45 years. The ministry began for hippies living in the mountains behind Santa Fe, and broadened to include inmates in penitentiaries in New Mexico. Part of the mission is to provide training for jobs and mentors when inmates are released, and to connect them with halfway houses. Please pray for Don’s recovery as he is in rehab for another month or so, after a debilitating health breakdown. If you would like to send a card: PO Box 90910, ABQ, NM 87199.

I didn’t know this. The list includes, for example:
Auto theft, larceny, robbery, rape, murder, manslaughter, vandalism, fraud, burglary, counterfeiting, aggravated assault, offenses against children, domestic violence, manufacturing, possession, distribution, and trafficking of drugs. Something like 8 percent of the working age population in this country has a felony conviction.

I have excerpted the following from a story on National Public Radio (NPR):
Alexis (not his real name) is a 22-year-old from the Bronx. Alexis has been looking for a job for months. He has been applying for every type of job available. He went through two interviews with Target that he thought went great, but Alexis didn’t get the job. He’s pretty sure it was because of a criminal background check the company ran on him. Alexis has a felony record, and for this reason, for a lot of employers that’s a deal breaker.

The military (click to source image).

The military (click to enlarge or to source image).

During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of people with felony convictions were given waivers that allowed them to enlist. The reason was pretty simple, the Army needed soldiers.

Devah Pager, a sociologist at Harvard, obtained the military records of over a million service members who joined up between 2002 and 2009. About 5,000 of those had felony records. However, she wanted to find out how ex-offenders actually do in the workplace? Can they be good employees?

Analysis of the data showed when the military made an exception and allowed people with felony convictions to enlist, they performed better than their peers.

First, Pager looked at how many finished the term they signed up for and how many got the boot. On average, those with felony waivers were no more likely to get kicked out.

Next, she looked at promotions. Those with felony-level waivers were promoted faster and to higher levels than those without waivers. And that was quite a surprise.

Pager’s extra observations: The military looked at everything about the person who was trying to join up, instead of just using criminal records as a litmus test. Non-military employers are probably missing a lot of talent when they exclude people with criminal records.

As Alexis stated: “I’m a natural hard worker. Even if I didn’t go to prison I would still work hard, harder than I’m supposed to. I’m just a hard worker.” Alexis would love to join the military, but for the military that is no longer an option.

Jesus’ redemption story: The prodigal son blows it, returns to his father, and is welcomed home (click to enlarge or to source).

Jesus’ redemption story: The prodigal son blows it, repents to his father, and is welcomed home (click to source image).

• I’m a felon, from a marijuana charge, and my company thinks I’m a great employee. Serial violent offenders, however, must be guided into isolated careers.
• I fully support efforts to selectively reintegrate felons into the working population. Examples: no convicted sex offenders at day care centers, nobody convicted of wire fraud at banking institutions, nobody convicted of large internal retail theft at retail outlets.
• Felons should be given an opportunity to redeem themselves and contribute to society in a manner that suits their abilities. To forgive those who have sinned and allow them an opportunity to regain their self-respect and the respect of others. At least that is the message I get from Christ’s teachings.

A gripping story haunted me for many years. A bishop took in an ex-convict on his last legs. During the night, the convict got out of bed and sneaked away with some fancy silverware.

The gendarmes captured the man and hauled him before the bishop, wanting confirmation so they could put the man away.

To their surprise, the bishop stated he had given the convict the silverware. And to prove this, he gave the man two silver candlesticks. That single act of redemption changed the man’s life, and Jean Valjean became a productive and compassionate citizen.Jean Valjean Soliloquy BEST

The story lingers in my mind, and continually reinforces my understanding of grace, as revealed by the life and teachings of Jesus. To read more of my thoughts about grace, click here. It truly is amazing!

Jean Valjean and the silver candlesticks (click to enlarge or to source).

Jean Valjean and the silver candlesticks (click to enlarge or to source).

Please forward this blog to folks who might appreciate the story. Email or Facebook is fine: just click on the appropriate box on the far right side of this blog screen.

If you are moved by this story, or know of experiences with felons in the workplace, please add a comment to the Comment box at the bottom of the blog.

The Gray Nomad
Probing the practice of Christian believers……

‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; When I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; I was naked, and you clothed Me; When I was sick you visited Me [with help and ministering care]; I was in prison, and you came to Me [ignoring personal danger].’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?

When did we see You as a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘I assure you and most solemnly say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it for Me.’ [Book of Matthew, chapter 25]

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Karen Larre
Karen Larre
8 years ago

This is a beautiful blog. I do believe people deserve redemption and forgiveness. Once I hired a felon but he stole from my cleaning clients. The felony was theft and as noted in one person’s comment, I would have been wise to not hire this person for a job giving them access to client’s valuables. Too much temptation I guess. And so, if this person had been hired for a job without such temptation, he may have done extremely well!

Barbara Leachman
Barbara Leachman
8 years ago

Thanks for this blog. Do you know if the background check of a person shows he or she was charged with a felony but never went to trial? Surely not, but who knows if it is erased? What an employer needs is the Holy Spirit’s leading in hiring anyone.

8 years ago

I know what it’s like to have the criminal background check be the deciding factor with jobs. Even going back to school and getting a degree didn’t seem to help. Almost feels like once you’re in the system, you can’t get out, and it will lead to nowhere good. Those that are stuck in this predicament don’t seem to have any options. All I can do is keep hoping. Maybe an employer one day may see me as something different than a criminal.

8 years ago


Tim Pegram~ I have hired and worked with many felons. As with all people you find the good and the bad. Will not stop me from bringing a person on the job site. Let them prove their worth.

Kathy Ferguson~ Yes,”Fathers Building Futures” is a business of awesome men making a difference in Abq. Look at their awesome work, http://www.FathersBuildingFurtures.com, they have turned cons into pros.

George Pariza~ Yes, we all make mistakes.

Staci Pollock Clubine~ Depends on the felony. We make mistakes and if we learn from our mistakes it is a blessing. God forgives us.

Dave Nawrocki
Dave Nawrocki
8 years ago

Greetings! Great post, Ian! As part of my practice, I maintain on average 2-4 ex-felons in my caseload. IMO, the criminal justice system is in serious need of reform … too long a story to post here. But where rubber meets the road, we throw numerous roadblocks in front of felons when they leave prison, in the name of what? Prejudice and blind ignorance — short-sighted social/monetary policies deriving from broad failures to conduct thoughtful, accurate, and appropriately integrated cost/benefit analyses. It’s a travesty.

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