By Akim Lattermore
Special to The Vindicator
In 1990, I was 19 years of age and sentenced to a 5-25 years in prison. I obtained my first degree in office administrations while in prison. When I came home, I obtained two degrees in social work and a degree in automotive technology.
It has been 25 years since my sentencing and 21 years since my release. I continue to be denied employment in spite of the fact that I have educated myself, I have not returned to crime and I remain drug free. Without employment I cannot pay my bills, support my family or pay my student debt.
There are over 20 million people with a felony conviction in the United States. It would only be wise to give returning citizens, people who have returned from incarceration and worked hard to change, an opportunity to become independent by way of employment.
The number one reason people return to crime is because of the lack of opportunity for employment. I was fortunate and determined not to go back to prison no matter what, even if it meant I had to beg for food – I was not going to steal it and risk incarceration again.
I spent my time of unemployment fighting for the rights of the millions of people who are over-criminalized and denied employment. We need worldwide “fair chance” hiring policies now. In March of 2014, I spoke at the Youngstown City Council meeting to emphasize the importance of “Ban the Box.”
I obtained the bulk of my degrees right here in this city, yet employers don’t even give me chance once they see “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” checked on my application. On Jan. 14, 2015, I spoke at the Warren City Council meeting pushing for Trumbull County to implement “Ban the Box” as a means of fair hiring.
Past is past
My resume should not be used as a practice shot to the trash can. By banning the box, employers can see my accomplishments, my love for freedom, and how my past mistakes do not define the person I have become.
We had a town hall meeting here Dec. 22 in which several city and state officials agreed to stand in solidarity with MVOC, OOC and the Youngstown/Warren community at the Ohio State House on Jan. 22, 2015. That day, at the People First Assembly: Our Lives Matter, our No. 1 demand was “Pass the Fair Hiring Act and Improve Access to Jobs.” The Fair Hiring Act acknowledges that we are people with skills, degrees and talents. We are people who are willing to work.
Ohio has taken the first step by banning the box on all state civil service applications and making sure the review of a criminal record is relevant to the job. This is a huge victory for people like me, and ultimately for Ohio. But we won’t stop here.
We will continue our push with our state representatives. We will work nationally for an executive order and a presidential memorandum so that the doors of hopelessness are shut and the doors of opportunity for success are opened. Fair hiring is our right, and for the benefit of all.
Akim Lattermore is a resident of Youngstown.