Former governor Al Quie (l) and Sondra Samuels (r) of the PEACE Foundation joined ex-offenders in advocating for Second Chance legislation.
-photos by Charles Hallman
The State Capitol rotunda was packed both with politicians and ex-offenders, speaking last week on the importance of second chances.
“I don’t see the reason why felons don’t have a second chance,” added Ronald Applewhite of North Minneapolis, a father of five (ages six months, six, nine, 10 and 12). He attended the January 26 Second Chance Day on the Hill in St. Paul. “We are all humans, and sometimes what it takes is a second chance.
“I’m an ex-felon. I got in trouble when I was young [at age 17]. I’m 46 now, and since then I haven’t been in any type of trouble,” admitted Applewhite.
Former Minnesota governor Al Quie was among several politicians who publicly expressed their support for second-chance legislation such as expanding the 2009 “ban the box” law to private employees. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty signed legislation in 2009 that requires all public employers to wait until an applicant has been selected for an interview before inquiring about criminal record or credit history — thus removing the “box” from the application.
However, the state law does not yet apply to private employers, which was one of last week’s event’s rallying points.
“If a parent can’t get a job and support his family, he turns to a different means in trying to support his family,” noted DeAngelo Chester, a father of three, who served almost five years in prison (2004-09) in Minnesota and also served time in Illinois (1992-97). “Just having a felony [blocks my] opportunity to sit down face-to-face to let them know that I’m capable and qualified to handle the job at hand, and I am a hard worker.
“Getting past that box has been an obstacle,” he pointed out.
Chester, along with James Cannon and Kathy Sublett, who also are ex-offenders, were among the featured speakers during last week’s rally. “I am well educated,” said Sublett, who once was convicted for check fraud. However, being “the smartest in her circle” of friends didn’t keep her from getting into trouble she added. “You make a mistake and fix it, and move on. When [are] we as a state going to make that same decision?”
Cannon says he lost his newly obtained job as a hospital technician after he was convicted of theft and served a month in jail in 2009. Afterwards, “Door after door was slammed in my face,” said the U of M graduate, who eventually was hired by a local church. “I applied for over 80 jobs.”
Chester completed an automotive-skills program with Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota last week and starts a second such program this week, he said proudly. According to Andy Sagvold, the manager of the Goodwill-Easter Seals reentry program, almost 90 percent of the 140 current participants are Black, and 59 percent of those who complete it get hired for jobs.
Sagvold confirmed that Chester has shown that he is ready to be a productive citizen if fully given the chance, or second chance. “He also was involved with the family-strengthening project with the Council on Crime and Justice. That program helped him become a better parent,” Sagvold said.
PEACE Foundation’s Sondra Samuels was among many who visited with state legislators after the rally. She met with those from Southern Minnesota hoping to convince them “to really look at justice for all Minnesotans,” she admitted beforehand. She also was accompanied by an ex-offender.
“She is going to tell her story,” explained Samuels. “She was in jail, had a felony and was doing great on a job [after being released].” After the woman was in an auto accident, “When she went to go back to the job, they said she no longer qualified because she had a felony. This was a job that she had been doing for years,” added Samuels.
State Senator John Harrington of St. Paul told the crowd last week that he intends to introduce legislation to restore voting rights to ex-offenders once they serve their time in jail or prison during this year’s legislative session. As a former St. Paul police chief, he is well aware of the importance of giving individuals second chances.
“We really do believe in giving them that second chance to get employed and become part of the community; [it] is what made St. Paul’s east side — and St. Paul in general — a safer city.”
However, when asked Marvin Clark of EMERGE, who helped bring a busload of folk to the event from North Minneapolis, and a regular attendee of the Second Chance day, expressed some skepticism after hearing the lawmakers’ brief remarks. “Some of them were serious, and there were those who are just talking,” he believes. “I’m not going to say that they all are mouthpieces; some are sincere in their efforts.”
“We all deserves a second chance regardless of a felony or not,” surmised Applewhite. “We still have to live, and if [you] don’t have a job, then how are you going to support yourself?”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.