I MADE A MISTAKE more than 40 years ago. When I was about 18 years old, I got into a fight with another young woman. After the fight, her father pressed charges against me and I was ultimately convicted of assault at 19 and sentenced to five years of probation. After successfully completing two years of my sentence, a court set aside my conviction and dismissed the indictment against me. I took to heart a statement in the court’s order that thereafter I would be “released from all penalties and disabilities” stemming from my conviction.
For decades, that incident was merely a footnote in my life. I went on to work for the city of Dallas, including a stint in the Marshal’s office, and retired after 28 years. I also worked for several years as a home health aide. All the while, I spent countless hours volunteering at the church my father founded, where I cooked in the kitchen, helped run a clothing donation program, and prepared lunches for kids during the summer.
But in 2013, the past I thought I had put behind me — a past the court released me from — reared its ugly head. Looking for ways to supplement my income in retirement and continue to help children, I took a job as a crossing guard for Dallas County Schools. Just eight days after starting, my supervisor came to see me at my post and told me that I needed to contact human resources. When I did, I was informed that there was something on my record that made me ineligible to work for the school system and I was fired.
I was shocked. After already working 28 years for the city of Dallas, I couldn’t imagine what on my record could prevent me from becoming a crossing guard. Then I realized that it was my decades-old conviction. Conversations with school officials confirmed that, at age 57, I was being denied a job for a mistake I made when I was barely 18.
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