Pubdate: Wed, 11 May 2016
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2016 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Mike Dingman
Note: Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in 
Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, 
studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late ' 90s.


There's a source of strength hidden within our society that most seem 
to overlook. Many discount this source of strength, focusing on the 
past rather than potential. However, hidden in plain sight, all 
through our society, recovering addicts are making society better for 
all of us.

Junkies, druggies, methheads, crackheads, tweakers, smackheads, 
trippers, whatever you've called them in the past, when they start 
the process of recovery, they are taking a journey more difficult 
than most of us will ever understand.

However, the strength and determination it takes to make that journey 
successfully and continue sobriety is largely ignored. Those with 
felony convictions can find it very difficult to find employment and 
even a place to rent. We shut out those in society whom we should be 
welcoming back in; more disturbingly, we ignore the value that their 
life experience can add to our lives and small businesses.

When I worked in corrections, I would always tell people, "I know 
more felons than you do, but you know more felons than you think you do."

This comment often gives people a moment of pause. The barista who 
always remembers your order and seems to work seven days a week 
between that and another job, the guy at the dry cleaner, and various 
other people we interact with throughout the day all have a past that 
we know nothing about -- just as we all do. Those with addiction in 
their past, who have conquered it and are now struggling to get by, 
even at a young age, have learned more in their life experience than 
many ever will.

There are many things we can do to harness this power and use it to 
improve society. There are the complicated measures like the "ban the 
box" law, which makes it illegal to ask someone if they are a felon 
until they make it to an interview, and tax credits for employers who 
hire those with criminal convictions, as well as other programs. 
However, more important is changing our attitudes: Shake their hand, 
welcome them into society and make sure they know they don't have to 
be outcasts.

We all have demons, we all struggle with something, and we all have 
unique past experiences that lead us to where we are. I believe that 
we cannot judge one person better than another, even if we can judge 
their actions. Some people do not deserve a second chance in society: 
They should stay in prison forever; on that, there could be little 
argument. However, more than 80 percent of felons will be released 
back into society; for those who have served their time, are in 
recovery and trying to find success in society, we should extend our hand.

Some programs out there can help. The federal government offers the 
Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program to provide tax credits for hiring 
people in many different target groups, including "a person convicted 
of a felony under any state or federal law and hired within one year 
of conviction or release from prison." For employers who are a bit 
leery about hiring ex-offenders, the state of Alaska also provides 
the Fidelity Bonding Program. This program offers insurance for six 
months against "any job-related theft, forgery, larceny or 
embezzlement by the employee that might occur on or away from the 
work facility." The program is offered at no cost to the employer or employee.

The benefits to hiring those in recovery go far beyond these 
programs, though. Many employers who have hired these men and women 
have learned how the dedication and hard work that go into recovery 
can translate well into their business. Many of these folks will tell 
you that the ex-offenders are some of the hardest workers they have 
ever had. These folks don't live in a vacuum. They have children, 
families, pets and all the dreams and desires that you and I have.

There's something to be said for those who have been to the depths of 
hell and come back. They return with the strength and knowledge of 
their experiences along the way -- experiences none of us could ever 
imagine. While some bring their knowledge and experience from 
academia, those who have battled addiction have a hidden brilliance 
that we should stop taking for granted.

The benefits are overwhelming and definitely outweigh any risks 
involved. Welcoming these recovering addicts back into society will 
give many employers a welcome surprise -- hard-working employees who 
have a unique outlook and a wealth of diversity in life experiences.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom