If I say the word criminal what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it a positive or negative image? Often times the word criminal or felony has a massive stigma attached to it. An image search in google will show men with mean faces and classic bank robber look, one with a mask and gun. Our society doesn’t really know how to think or deal with those who have lived a life of crime. We put them into categories, setting them aside, not knowing what to do with them.
As we wrap up this section on understanding, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention understanding felonies. Trying to regain a life of freedom after being convicted of a felony is no easy task. Many women in the life have been jailed numerous times, leaving them with felony records. Oftentimes this fact is what keeps women in the life. This may even draw them back into the life after years of successfully being out. Women in prostitution want a normal life like you or me, but it is hard to do with a felony.
We all have things in our past that we are not proud of but may not be criminal activities. Imagine if you knew that people thought less of you because of what you’ve done in your past. The additional shame and cultural stigma are difficult to overcome. Imagine that you got your felony because you were under the control of someone else. There are modern day slaves that have been arrested and got a record because they didn’t want to turn in their slaver. The stigma and shame of having a record extremely hard to overcome.
If you are a criminal, you get the door shut in your face time and time again. It is hard to get past this as this question is on every job application. Every time you are faced with rejection, you wonder if it came because of this little box that you are required to say yes to. If you are really trying to clean up your life then a record makes the already uphill battle even harder. Not feeling wanted will work against your goals of recovery. Not being able to get a job will make it hard for you to provide for your needs.
If there is not a good community or job in place, the temptation to go back to the life will be exponentially greater. Women with a felony often have a harder time at this than men. Men can get jobs in trades that would be willing to look past a criminal record, but these jobs are not as available to women. Often times women’s jobs pay significantly less. If they are able to get an apartment, they are not able to afford to live in the nice part of town. This can mean they are closer to the places where they used to work. Drugs and crime are higher in low-cost living areas, putting these women closer to temptations.
There is a desperation that comes from having a criminal record: desperation that can push women back to the streets. They are able to make more money on the streets than minimum wage even though there are risks. I once heard a survivor mention that she was always tempted to go back to the streets if money got tight. She wasn’t working a great job and could make more in one night than she did in a month’s worth of normal work. In a lot of ways, going back to the life would be easier.. She just didn’t want to live with the struggle of paying her bill on such little money.
This is why survivor aftercare is essential. We can serve these women through our encouragement when everywhere else they are met with rejection. Having people who stand in your corner, encouraging when failure seems inevitable gives strength to stay strong and keep going. Being a part of a community that embraces women regardless of their histories is a wonderful joy in my life. We get to have hope and be light when the work force wants to ignore my friends.
One of the beauties of Peoria Home, where I am a board member, is our social enterprise. This is important so that we can provide jobs and community for survivors. There is no shame or difficulty in finding a job, there will always be one for you. These survivors will not wonder if they will get hired, instead they will be elevated to positions of leadership and influence. As they survive we recognize them as stronger because of this. They will not wonder if they are wanted, they will know that they are loved and valued.
We are currently working toward our social enterprise. You can pray for us as an organization as we get this set up this next year. The main goal is provision, not profit: providing a service to both our customers and our friends. This brings dignity and worth rather than judgement and condemnation. Offering a job is one way that we will prove the all women are born worthy.
#TeamMitchellBoys is raising awareness this month and also fund for Peoria Home. Peoria Home is just one place where we can put our deepening understanding to practice.