Here is my contribution to “Tales From The Registry.” I love the concept and hope you promote it more. In anticipation of my pending release of the results from the Once Fallen Job & Welfare Survey, my article concerns a story I should have shared four years ago.
“They are absolutely allowed their voice, but they are not allowed to use our platform for that voice.”
By Derek W. Logue of OnceFallen.com
February 29, 2016
If you are a registered citizen and you have ever conducted a job search, chances are you have at least one job search horror story. My first job interview after my stint in prison was with OfficeTeam, a “temp-to-hire” company. I had lots of clerical experience, had easily passed their aptitude tests, and was invited to come in to fill out the final paperwork to be added to the jolly crew of office mercenaries. Just as I was about to sign the papers, a woman I had never seen before barged into the room, screaming at me that she told me that they don’t hire people like me. I was never told that, and had been honest on my application, so no one had mentioned it before that moment. She threatened to call the police on me and had me escorted out of the building before I was even able to recover from the shock of this woman’s venomous rant against me. I had expected to experience a lot of disappointment and frustration at trying to find a job with this virtual mark of infamy, but it did not make experiencing the discrimination firsthand any easier to absorb.
If you are a registered citizen, you also realize that your right to express your frustration through social media is also limited; not only do states attempt to limit (if not outright ban) registered citizens from social media like Facebook, social media sites like Facebook also bans registered citizens from their services. The story I wish to tell you today is a melding of these two obstacles (jobs and social media) because it concerns my brief life as a contributor to an online news service.
There are a number of online “independent media” platforms, such as AlterNet or the Huffington Post. Many of these websites allow “citizen journalists” to write for the platform; regular folks like you and I can write for them, and the more people who read what you write, the more you get paid. (Granted, you have to have tens of thousands of readers to make a decent amount of money, but making a few extra bucks to do what you are already doing is not a bad gig.) In February, 2012, I filled out an application with Examiner (Examiner.com), which included a sample of my writing, and within a week, I was approved to write for the Examiner. After living off of public assistance (SSI and SNAP) since April 2006, I was hoping to use my experience writing for Examiner.com to establish myself as a decent researcher and writer.
Even today, Examiner.com does not mention the exclusion of registered citizens (much less anyone with a criminal record) from the qualifications, according to their about us page. (see http://www.examiner.com/About_Examiner) They only ask you to be “credible, passionate, & knowledgeable,” be accurate, contribute regularly, be able to offer a “local” point of view, and be open to feedback. That’s it. The fine print reads, “Examiners must be 18 years of age or older and U.S. or Canadian residents. Each Examiner is required to sign an independent contractor agreement prior to activation.” Not even the contract asks about a criminal record. If it did, I would not have bothered signing up to write for them.
Over the course of six weeks, I published four articles for Examiner.com, until my account was abruptly suspended. Curious, I contacted Examiner.com on March 24, 2012. My email read, “I am wondering why my account was deleted without warning or notification. I have done nothing wrong and all my articles have references.”
Having never seen anything about background checks in any of the Examiner terms of service, I asked, “What do you mean by ‘background check?’ Do you prohibit certain people from writing for you or something?”
Kevin replied, “Hey Derek, That’s correct; there are certain offenses that would preclude a person from contributing to the site. We have a third party company that performs these background checks on our behalf, and they’re essentially looking at felony crimes and specific offender registries. They do not contact previous/current employers, nor do they perform credit checks. Hope to have this completed shortly.”
“Specific offender registries” was an obvious euphemism for the sex offender registry. Some states do have other registries of people convicted of other types of crimes, but if you mention “THE registry,” pretty much everyone knows you are discussing the public sex offender registry. So I asked Kevin, “So having a felony record or being on the public sex offender registry bans qualified people from contributing? That sounds like discrimination. Are they not allowed a voice? What is the harm in it?”
Kevin’s final reply—“They are absolutely allowed their voice, but they are not allowed to use our platform for that voice.”
The next day, I was sent an email with a PDF attachment that read, “As part of the Examiner.com Examiner screening process, you have been randomly selected to complete a background check. Attached, please find the appropriate disclosure and authorization forms. Although it is your choice whether or not to complete these forms, please know that should you fail to complete the forms (or fail to pass the background check), your Examiner status review will be deemed incomplete, and you will no longer be eligible to participate as an Examiner for Examiner.com. If you do wish to remain an Examiner, you must complete the disclosure and authorization forms in their entirety, and return them to me within 7 days… Please take this request seriously… if you fail to return the forms within 7 days, we reserve the right to suspend or terminate your Examiner account immediately, without notice.”
I have a hard time believing I was “randomly selected” for a background check. Not coincidentally, this “random” suspension came just days after I had written an article about Ron Book and the ongoing homeless registrant issue in Miami. (You can find this article, “The sequel no one wanted: Bookville II, return of the Miami sex offender camp”, at http://once-fallen.blogspot.com/2012/04/sequel-no-one-wanted-bookville-ii.html, republished from Examiner.) It is possible that a representative from the Book family targeted me for this story. It may even have been possible the work of one of the various “online vigilante” groups targeting registered citizens on the internet. After all, one recent comment directed at me was, “In the unlikely event that you ever achieve anything remotely resembling any kind of significance, you can be sure that a relatively small number of phone calls and emails will be more than enough to completely ruin you and any delusional hopes you might have had of changing the current hell of your miserable existence [smiley face]. Ironically, individuals complaining about me collecting government assistance are also eager to state that if I try to get a job to benefit myself, “a relatively small number of phone calls and emails” will ruin that for me, so ultimately, why bother looking for a job?
No matter who decided to complain about me to Examiner, the bottom line is I’m no longer writing for Examiner.
It never ceases to amaze me how ignorant people can be about the difficulties registered citizens face in seeking gainful employment. Even among others within the anti-registry movement, I have been given advice from people who seem to be ignorant of the difficulties of finding a job as a registered citizen. Registered citizens tend to be more highly educated than other people convicted of criminal offenses, yet many of us languish in stressful, low-paying dead-end jobs with little to no upward mobility, assuming jobs even exist.
My experience with Examiner was only one of many job difficulties I have faced since my release in 2003. I have been approached by some good paying jobs over the years, only to be denied because of my status alone. After years of rejection, I have reached a point of having no desire to find traditional employment. I have suffered my own share of anxiety and depression over the years. These days, “jobs” and “work” are four-letter words to me, both literally and figuratively.
The preliminary results from the job and welfare survey I have recently conducted confirm many of the difficulties we all face while carrying this mark of infamy. Some of us carrying this label have found a way to succeed and make decent wages, but not all of us are enterprising or entrepreneurial. Not all of us are good at creating and maintaining businesses with a profit motive. I just so happen to be one of the many people lacking the proficiency to create a successful business. I am grateful that I receive SSI and SNAP (food stamps), because these are the only two programs keeping me from experiencing another bout of homelessness. I will likely remain on these programs until the day I die, unless the general public changes their overall attitude about employing people forced to register as a “sex offender.”