When I stopped using, I found myself nearly unemployable. I was a hard worker and often worked two jobs. I was a chef and never had difficulty locating a kitchen that was eager for my skills, but after 9/11, employment requirements changed and felons were not wanted.
I contacted a temporary culinary employment agency and worked a variety of jobs for relatively low pay. Not great, but it was steady work. I was fortunate that, in time, I was able to be assigned to a long-term contract which lasted nine months. This created a small amount of consistency in my life and I was able to feel comfortable for a while. I was excited to learn that the company wanted to hire me full time and I started to make plans in my head for my life going forward. The formal interview went quite well but the subsequent background check resulted in the job offer being rescinded.
Before the temp contract ended, I was forced to begin searching for a permanent position elsewhere. My commute at that time consisted of catching a 15 minute bus ride at 4:00 am then a 45 minute train ride to be at work at 5:00 am. I carried dress clothes and a stack of resumes with me on my commute for the interviews every day after work. I would then return home to send emails with resumes until the early evening. I was repeatedly told how impressive my work experience was by prospective employers. In my mind I would say “keep reading” and then I would watch their faces cringe once they saw I was a three time felon. The statement, “Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do for you,” haunted me daily. I became so frustrated by the constant rejection that I wanted to simply ask prospective employers if they hired felons and when they replied “no,” I would flatly state, “Yeah?! Well ____ You!” I realized that this was not a spiritual mindset but in early recovery we can often find ourselves falling back into old behaviors when we’re angry or frustrated. That’s when I reached out to the fellowship and found other people who dealt with similar situations. They supported and advised me to take a different approach and told me to never give up.
I made a decision to be more proactive and began bringing a letter to explain my circumstances and what I had done to change them, and included a list of professional contacts that would verify this information. After two and a half months of searching for a new job, a division of a nationwide grocery chain gave me a chance.
Shortly thereafter, a member of my CMA home group who already knew of my past asked if I would be willing to help part time with his property management company. Because I had plenty of wreckage from my past, much of it financial, I agreed. Working two jobs helped me address my financial concerns, but after three years, I was earning more as a property manager and I quit my job at the grocery store.
The Homeowners Association (HOA) industry can be difficult with long hours. On the other hand, our office was full of members of recovery, our employer paid us well, and we had an abundance of vacation time. The security in my employment allowed me to experience more in my personal life. I began dating, got married, purchased a house,and had a child. All had been well for many years.
In an effort to address the concerns of some residents, the HOA industry in Colorado passed legislation requiring licensure of all property management employees. This was to be enacted within a year. A background check was part of the licensure process and felonies would preclude my ability to be licensed. My future seemed bleak and the clock was ticking. I had worked so hard to get to this point in my recovery and I felt as if it was all being taken away. I questioned how long would I have to pay for the mistakes of my past.
I realized I would have to take action that, similar to my Step work, would be uncomfortable. I sought advice from an attorney in the industry and there was a possibility of obtaining a license with a criminal past, but it would involve many hurdles.
I obtained all the records from every conviction I received from police stations, courts, and probation officers. I wrote a detailed explanation of the events surrounding those convictions and what occurred since. I got letters of professional recommendation from people who knew me both before and after I quit using. I submitted all this information with an application for a hearing from the regulatory agency and participated in a meeting with representatives from the state of Colorado to explain what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now.
I then attended preparatory classes for a lengthy written examination, proved that I had participated in 24 hours of continuing education, and provided a background check with fingerprints for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. I took the necessary steps even though I was unsure of the outcome.
This process spanned six months requiring countless hours and significant amounts of money, and revived feelings that I was a terrible person and didn’t deserve a chance at a better life. And while this was happening, I was uncertain whether, at the end of this, I could support my family. When my regular work day became difficult I would often say, “Why am I putting myself through all this?”
After waiting anxiously for several weeks, I received the call from the regulatory agency regarding their determination and I was given a favorable opinion from my advisory hearing. My test score was sufficient to pass and my background check came up clean from the time of my last conviction. My license was now available for me to print! I was relieved and felt a strong sense of accomplishment. The roller coaster of emotion I had been on for nearly a year was over and my life could continue.
Throughout this experience, I stayed positive and focused on my goal: to obtain my license with a history of paper crimes. If you have had a similar experience, I hope my story illustrates that together we can overcome almost anything. The lesson I’ve learned is that as long as we show great effort and determination, live and love honestly and keep to the spiritual principles of the program, our dreams can become reality.
It has been some time since I went through this process and looking back it all seems so small. Just like the numerous times in jail, in front of a judge, or in rehabs, it was just a part of my journey. Life will continue to present challenges, but with the tools of recovery I can walk through them and be an example to others of how recovery works.