We all make mistakes. In fact, it was Catherine Pulsifer who said, “we all make them, the difference is what we do after we make the mistake, how we see the mistake – a learning experience or a failure.” Mistakes, failure, and the sheer stupidity of having been convicted can toy with an individual’s mental health and invoke feelings of embarrassment. It can also cause a person to doubt their worthiness and position in the world. If that’s you, this article will show you how to overshadow a criminal record in 6 super smart ways.
According to Kathryn Schulz, these “terrible feelings come from realizing wrongness, not the feeling of actually being wrong. Because often, people are wrong for a while before they realize it, and in that intervening time, being wrong feels eerily like being right.”[i] But what if after serving a sentence and acknowledging the wrong, the individual is limited by public opinion, harshly criticized by family members, and still encounter difficulties in the arena of gaining access to employment?
In approaching this issue, one should note that change can be daunting for the de-centered self, and even, most of society. Individuals who enter their moral career will face challenges from a fraction of members of the establishment, as they will seek to put a ‘glass ceiling’ between that individual and what they want to accomplish. This barrier can take the form of publishing the individuals’ past on the internet and blacklisting them from future employment opportunities. In view of this, it’s quite likely that individuals seeking a second chance may not know exactly how to overshadow their criminal record.
1. Sit With the Truth
First, sit with the truth. It is generally agreed today that previously incarcerated persons have accepted the wrong. While it may not be possible to make amends for the wrong in every case, I believe one of the smartest ways to overshadow a criminal record is to sit with the truth. This is often done within the confines of a prison cell or in isolation. According to Erving Goffman, this ‘mortifications of the self’ or sitting out period, makes it easier to eradicate the old self and create a new one.
2. Create the Best Ascription of Yourself is How to Overshadow a Criminal Record
Second, create the best ascription of you. An ascription gives, imputes, or attributes certain features to a person without justification. Let’s say an individual volunteers at a homeless shelter and uploads several photos of their action on social media. People may see them as being reliable, selfless, and passionate about social causes. Another way an individual can create the best ascription of themselves is to start their own business. For example, if an individual opens a barber shop and donates a percentage of the proceeds to a victim’s fund, people may associate that person with philanthropy and ‘giving back.’ As can be seen, these attributes are starkly different from terms such as inmate, offender, and criminal.
3. Ask Search Engines to Remove Negative Results
Third, ask webmasters to remove these negative results from their websites. For example, under the Right to Be Forgotten law in Ireland, people can request search engines to rectify or erase search engine results that are inaccurate, incomplete, outdated, or no longer relevant. This is arduous to accomplish in other jurisdictions outside of the EU, which will be discussed in another article. Be that it may, it is settled law that even individuals with criminal convictions have a right to privacy, and the right to be left alone.
4. Educate Others on Differential Association is How to Overshadow a Criminal Record
Fourth, individuals should educate those around them on what Edwin H. Sutherland refers to as differential association. While and individual may be wholly responsible for the commission of past criminal conduct, crime is often learnt by individuals in primary groups whose members were criminally inclined. It is often thought that previously incarcerated individuals become criminal by being socialized, in that, the weight of views favourable to crime exceeds those that encourage them to be law-abiding.[ii] At times, individuals are merely a product of their environment.
5. Understand the Hierarchy of Credibility
Fifth, understand the hierarchy of credibility. According to Howard S. Becker, those at the top (individuals without a criminal past) usually appear much more credible than those at the bottom.[iii] While Becker’s specifically mentioned those in an organization or society as being at the top, we cannot ignore the fact that previously incarcerated individuals are treated as an underclass. As a previously incarcerated person or underdog, the individual might be so completely discredited by a criminal record, as effectively to have no voice at all.[iv]
While some employers might sympathize with, for example, marijuana users, it is hard to imagine many employers feeling obliged to assist ‘thieves’ or ‘crack cocaine dealers’ in their search for work. When this happens, use vocabularies of motive. These are the verbalizations of motives and intentions a person uses, not just to describe their actions, but also to justify them to others. For example:
“I burglarized that home when I was 21-years-old because I lived in an environment where I had to fend for myself. I was wrong. But now, I have changed, and I have made amends to my victims….”
“You should hire me for the following reasons: first, as a previously incarcerated individual, my lived-experience placed me directly in environments to understand crime and its impacts on people of color and the community….”
“The truth of the matter is that the content you are seeing online about me is factually incorrect. While that content may be persuasive because it is contained on a government website, its important to know [explain]….”
I understand there will be circumstances where the opportunity to explain convictions will be foreclosed; however, an individual should not allow this to choke off the flow of their enthusiasm or their resolve to create the best ascription of themselves. Where possible, individuals should explain the nature of their convictions in their cover letter or insert it into the objective on their CV.
For example, if an individual is applying for a job in home security, an objective may be “I used to steal stuff for a living, but I left that game behind years ago. I seek to use my criminal skills to test the security devices of corporations and to use my criminal “know how” to help make security devices more effective.”
6. Own Your Rite of Passage is How to Overshadow a Criminal Record
The sixth and final way on how to overshadow a criminal record is to own your rite of passage by drawing public attention to the changes in your status and social identity. You may also want to document how you handle the strong emotions that may be involved in such a transition.[v] As a previously incarcerated individual, pupil in society will use you as a scapegoat for their ignorance, phobias, political ideology, biases, and frustrations. When employers are unable to identify the real source of their own problems—having identified the source—are unable to challenge it, they may turn on some convenient target—you.[vi] Indeed, evidence demonstrates previously incarcerated persons are disproportionately the victims of scapegoating. Thus, it has been argued that police should stop making mugshots public, as it only compounds the problem.
While this is not to be used as a ruse to justify prior criminal conduct, it is your right to change the course of your life. If English poet, John Marston, were alive today, he’d tell you, “Every man has a right to change, a chance of forgiveness.”
Overshadowing the past is the death of the subject. With these 6 super smart ways, I am confident these tools will be the demise of how perhaps your criminal record will be used as an unquestionable reference point, and how, employers may judge it in the future.
[i] Mind Shift (2015). Why Making Mistakes Is What Makes Us Human. KQED. Available at: https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/41709/making-mistakes-is-what-makes-us-human
[ii] Bruce, S. & Yearley, S. (2006). Differential Association. In The Sage Dictionary of Sociology. SAGE Publications Ltd. See pp. 71-72.
[iii] Id., Hierarchy of Credibility, p. 135.
[v] Id., Rite of Passage, p. 263.
[vi] Id., Scapegoating, p. 269.