How are You Supposed to Get a Job When They Still Think You’re a Thief?

man in dark store

Meet “Oscar”, age 29 and his father, “Jose”, age 51

I discovered my dad was a thief when I was five years old.

I remember the day I figured it out. At first he tried to hide it from me, the deodorant, the can of soup, the wool cap he stuffed into his coat at Walmart. He didn’t say a thing about it as we walked back to the bus stop in the cold.

We were alone, just the two of us, but I still whispered when I asked him about the things he took. “Aren’t you supposed to pay for it?”

I’ll never forget the look on his face. First, he looked confused, like he didn’t understand the question. Then he smiled, like I had said something funny.

“Not when you’re broke,” he said.

After that, Dad started showing me how to look for cameras and avoid store employees. He taught me what was too big to take, what I could fit into a coat, and how warm it could be before people started to suspect a guy in a coat.

He fed me his morality BS, too. My dad really believed it was okay to steal as long as he needed what he was taking, the store was big enough to afford it, and he didn’t go over a certain dollar amount in value.

Of course, what he “needed” turned out to be anything he could fleece, he definitely robbed a few mom n’ pops, and that dollar value limit changed about a thousand times.

He finally got caught when I was 10, and spent most of my teenage years in prison. He never lasted long on parole before he would screw it up.

Once, his parole officer busted him in Ohio. It was a Sunday and my dad actually wanted to buy something for once, a six-pack. So, he went across the state line where Sunday alcohol sales were legal. A few hours and disorderly charge later, he was on his way straight back to Indiana State Prison.

Mom never divorced him. I couldn’t believe it, but the church wouldn’t condone it. She sure hated him, though. Dad still has a scar on his stomach from the time Mom came at him with a butcher knife. She swears it flew out of her hand because her palms were greasy. I don’t know, maybe.

I turned out to be terrible at shoplifting. I got caught the first time I tried it, at 13. I pinched a few candy bars at the dollar store around the corner from my house. The manager called my mom. I was grounded for what felt like months.

It was a miracle that I never went to juvey. A few years later, another miracle happened.

My dad was out on parole again. He came home and announced he was going to make us dinner. That was the first sign that something was different.

Over dinner, he told us about a prison ministry that had helped him. These people from a church (Protestant, which my Catholic mom was willing to overlook) came with cookies and Bibles to talk to the inmates. He was really skeptical at first, until he discovered he really liked talking to the pastor.

He said that pastor helped him figure out a lot of things about himself, about self-hatred and depression … Yeah, it was a lot to take at once. I was 18 by now, old enough to see in her eyes that my mom’s BS detector was on high alert.

That was over 10 years ago. My father completed his parole and has not been back to prison since. He began to volunteer in the prison ministry during the week and go to mass with my mom and me on Sundays. I still don’t know whether he’s Catholic or Protestant.

He picked up work where he could, going door to door selling home security systems, washing cars, doing a little handyman work. That was fine until Mom got sick.

She was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer last year. Radiation and chemotherapy have taken their toll on her, and it’s likely she won’t be able to go back to work for a long time. I help out where I can financially, but it never seems to be enough. They’re getting behind on credit card bills.

Dad started applying for real jobs with benefits almost as soon as Mom got sick. He’s applied for factory work, auto sales, secretarial work, everything. I’ll bet he has submitted over 200 applications by now.

Every interview has gone the same, though. They always ask about the box. He has to mark “Yes” to the question about committing a crime, and when he tells them it was for theft, the interview is almost always over.

One day recently, I was over at the house. Mom was taking a nap, and after a long silence my dad said, “I never knew how hard it would be to want to be responsible, and feel like I can’t.”

How long does this have to go on? At what point does society forgive and forget what a man like my father has done, and give him a chance at a new life?

What does he have to do?

The above story is a work of fiction, but it might sound familiar. If “Oscar” and “Jose” could be you and a family member in crisis, there is good news: you may be able to get their theft conviction erased from their criminal record. Contact Bruce Munson today to discuss your options for expungement.

It’s time for your loved one to have the freedom to move on.

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