The Stigma of Being an Ex-Con

By Seth Ferranti 08/02/16

From discrimination to a major lack of job opportunities, the obstacles that ex-cons have to face upon re-entering society are innumerable.

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The Stigma of Being an Ex-Con

When you’re doing time in our nation's penitentiaries, having some type of hope is paramount for your sanity. But even when out of prison and doing the right thing, an ex-con can be a target. To law enforcement, an ex-offender out in the world is considered “the usual suspect” or “the one with the record.” This blemish on their record of life can obstruct forward motion, holding an ex-prisoner back from opportunities, even after they served their debt to society.

Rodney White is a 51-year-old ex-felon. He got out on February 21, 2007 after serving fifteen and a half years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, crack and heroin. The Richmond, Virginia native spent three months in a halfway house and three months under house arrest to complete his sentence. Once he was out, he got a bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts and Paralegal Studies from the University of Richmond and a master's in Adult Education from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. He has completely turned his life around, but the stigma of being an ex-con is still there. 

“It’s not until I think about at least three jobs that I know I was refused—and two that I know I was refused an interview for—because I have a criminal record, that I become frustrated and motivated to create change,” Rodney tells The Fix. “This is important to me because various states automatically give ex-offenders/returning citizens their rights back, while in other states like Virginia, a returning citizen must go through a special process. It’s such an obstacle that if I moved back to Virginia today, I wouldn’t be able to automatically vote even though I’ve voted in elections in North Carolina. I’d have to ask the governor of Virginia to restore my rights.”

The obstacles that ex-cons have to face when they return to society are innumerable. From discrimination to employment, credit and housing problems to law enforcement profiling, it's definitely an uphill battle. As President Obama slowly overhauls the criminal justice system, trying to make it easier for ex-cons to reintegrate, the plight and stigma of the ex-offender is being recognized—but is recognition enough?

“The ‘ban the box' movement is great,” Rodney tells The Fix. “But I will not be happy until I see that private companies are hiring returning citizens and all drug offenders can get Pell Grants again. Correcting the reentry problem in America will de-stigmatize returning citizens and make the process easier. We hold 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the prisoners, with 2.2 million people behind bars. We are not coping well right now because many of the people locked up in the '90s are starting to come home in record numbers.”

The Department of Justice announced in the spring that it won’t be referring to returning citizens as “felons” or “convicts” anymore because the “disparaging labels” exist as a “psychological barrier to reintegration.” Recognizing that the negative labels attached to people—be it ex-con or ex-addict—can lead to recidivism and perpetuate a cycle of crime is the first step in welcoming returning citizens home. When a prisoner serves time in the penitentiary for breaking the law, he shouldn’t still be punished after his sentence is completed. With hundreds of thousands of drug war prisoners coming home every year, a little forgiveness is in order.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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