It was a busier than usual Friday at the day shelter for men who are homeless where I work, and from the moment I walked through the door until the moment the last man left for the day, I was on the go. One man managed to stop me in my tracks yesterday morning, though, and our conversation has stayed with me, even a day later
As soon as I entered the day shelter, I spotted a man who was clean-cut and dressed impeccably, and he appeared ready to conquer the day with his casual business attire, kind smile, and friendly demeanor. This man is someone I see almost every day, as he happens to be a guest at the day shelter, and before I made my way to my office, I made my way over to him to find out how his job search was going. This particular gentleman shatters every stereotypical image we may have of those who are homeless, as he is a U.S. veteran, who is well-educated, articulate, and determined to rebuild his life by re-entering the work force. He does not want a “hand out”; he wants a “hand up” for a second chance. Recently, he thought that he had found a second chance in the form of employment, but as he explained to me yesterday morning, his past cast a shadow over the present and clouded his future.
He explained that he applied for a job and had been fired almost as soon as he had been hired, when the human resources representative noticed that he had disclosed that he had a prior felony conviction as a young adult. Not to be deterred, this man immediately sought employment through a staffing agency and had a second shift job assignment at a factory that afternoon, and he planned to spend yesterday morning going to other companies and businesses to apply for permanent jobs before reporting for his shift. I shared his disappointment that he had been fired from the first job and praised him for finding another job and continuing to look for a permanent position. He thanked me for my support and then began the conversation that left both of us wiping tears from our eyes.
When he recounted being fired for his prior felony conviction, he acknowledged that he had “made some stupid decisions when I was a kid”. I summoned up the words of poet Maya Angelou and asked him, “Now that you know better, do you do better?’ He responded, “Every single day when I wake up, I do better. Sometimes, though, it seems like my past is another disability that I have to overcome.” As the words left his mouth, the tears came to his eyes and then to mine, as what he said resonated with me on a variety of levels.
I know on a personal level the pain of being judged, both rightly and wrongly, for my past decisions and actions, and I also admit to judging others’ past and not allowing them to be present in my life because of it. I also witness how the past imprisons the men in the day shelter, as they cannot free themselves from who they once were and what they once did and/or their family members, friends, employers, etc. cannot grant them the freedom that forgiveness and another chance can bring. Some may argue that these men have had too many chances and/or done too many wrongdoings to merit another opportunity at a job, housing, loving relationships, etc., but I am not here to argue at all. I am here to tell one man’s story to provide him with a voice that he feels like falls silent on deaf ears and closed minds and hearts.
As I tried to compose myself, unsuccessfully so, with tears running down my cheeks and a voice cracking with emotion, I simply said, “You are not your past, and I wouldn’t want you to work for anyone who is going to hold your past against you. You cannot give up, because if you give up, I will give up, too.” At this point, I had reached out to hold one of his hands, and he squeezed my hand in his and said, “You can’t give up, and I won’t, either.” We may be so very different in so many ways, but we both know the pain of the darkness and the joy of finding the light once again, and it is my hope and prayer that this shining star be given another chance to shine. We all deserve that chance, and the world needs that light.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story