It is completely legal to discriminate against people who have a criminal record by denying them housing, employment, and voting rights. This type of discrimination locks people out of the opportunities that promote healthy and enriching lives. This type of discrimination leaves a segment of the population teetering on the edge or fleeing back into the underground. This discrimination assumes that once you have offended you can never serve your time and you can never truly return.
I’m an “ex-offender” living and working in Baltimore. I have never been arrested, never seen the inside of a police car or jail cell, and I’ve never worn a pair of handcuffs. But I have offended. I’ve purchased, used, and sold illegal drugs. I’ve stolen property. I’ve trespassed and been publicly intoxicated. I’ve carried a hand gun illegally. I’ve done all of these things and have had the good fortune to avoid the arrest that leads to the conviction that leads to the label that leads to a permanent second-class citizenship. It helps that I committed these crimes as a white guy in the suburbs.
Without the label, I am able to work where I choose and where I am qualified. Without the label, I am to live where I choose and where I can afford the rent or mortgage.
I choose to live in Baltimore City. I choose to work in nonprofit workforce development helping unemployed Baltimore residents connect to living wage jobs. I choose to make a positive contribution to my community. Not everyone who has lived the lifestyle that I have lived will choose to contribute positively to the community, but everyone who chooses to should be welcomed with open arms.
My audacious idea is that Baltimore embraces the renewal of her people to create a city that is stronger, healthier, and more livable by allowing people to truly re-enter society when they are ready.
President Theodore Roosevelt said, “This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.” Substitute “country” with “city” and understand that a community that aims to be healthy, safe, and enriching cannot be one that relegates a significant portion of the population to a second-class citizenry locked in poverty, a poverty that we all share.
Baltimore is a city that has undergone significant urban renewal. All over the city there are areas that were once underutilized because the sites were contaminated from industrial processes. Many of these sites are now thriving commercial, residential, and nightlife hot spots. Canton is an example. In embracing these sites and remediating and redeveloping for reuse, we made Baltimore stronger and more livable. If we had left these sites to fester and cause blight, Baltimore would be weaker.
People who have faltered and become labeled, contaminated, must not be left underutilized and abandoned to fester and perpetuate a culture of blight. I suggest we accept when someone has served their time and is ready for redevelopment and renewal.
We can undo the unjust and discriminatory practices that have locked people out of the “American Dream,” the lifestyle that we are so proud of in this country. We can welcome back those friends, neighbors, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers who are ready to contribute to Baltimore’s ongoing renewal. Only in working together, can we be the Baltimore we need to be.