Do These Sex Offender Employment Restrictions Make Sense to Anyone?

    In the month since I was released from Georgia Department of Corrections custody, I’ve been offered four different jobs. I could have been an account lead at a prominent insurance agency; a receptionist at the same agency, different location; an accountant at another insurance agency; and a paralegal assistant at a law firm. I submitted each offer to my local sheriff’s department, where each was promptly rejected. It appears there are only two available positions in the entire county I’d be allowed to work, one of them at Taco Bell and the other also at Taco Bell. 

    People who aren’t impacted by sex offender registry (SOR) restrictions typically think they ban you from schools. They do, but they also ban you from living or working within 1,000 feet (as the crow flies, no matter how long the actual route) of churches, gyms, community centers, parks—public parks, even. Pretty much any job in any moderately urban area is going to be within 1,000 feet of at least one of those.

    The insurance company jobs were salaried positions in the $30,000s, with health insurance and dental and monthly bonuses. The paralegal assistant job paid $21 per hour, but in the field I’m actually passionate about and qualified to pursue, and even if that weren’t true it still would have been $6 more than Taco Bell.

    My required classes are held in a church, but I’m not allowed to accept a job offer  down the road from a church.

    The highest-paying offer, $38,000 with potential for advancement up to $80,000, would have had me working from home—that is, the partially constructed boarding house for people on SOR where I rent a room. I would have only had to physically go into the office for four hours on Mondays to do paperwork. Alas, a few hundred feet down the road from that office there is a church.

    I’m allowed to go to church to attend Sunday services. I’m allowed to pay $45 to go to church when my weekly SOR classes are held in basement. But I’m not allowed to go once a week to a building that is not even a church, just in the vicinity of one, if the purpose of my being there is the gainful employment I desperately need. Not having enough money is a parole violation.

    Within the next few weeks, my SOR fees will begin flooding in. The first is the mental health evaluation—best guess, it’ll cost around $300. My parole officer said there’s another county where I might be better off taking it instead, because it’d be a lot more expensive in this one. How much more expensive? I asked. To which she replied: “…Like, a lot.”

    The evaluation is to clear me for the SO rehabilitation classes, which will probably be $45-$50 each week for at least a year.. Every couple of months I’ll have to pay $250 to take a polygraph. I have no idea how much the random drug tests will cost, but they will cost something. Not to mention the $800 for rent each month and another $125 for insurance—car, not health. I still haven’t been approved for Medicaid. Or food stamps.

    The best job we’re allowed to get is at the Kea manufacturing plant. The job that just about everyone actually gets is at the poultry processing plant.

    The best job that people on SOR around here are geographically eligible to get is at the Kea manufacturing plant. The job that just about everyone actually gets is at the poultry processing plant. There are a few openings doing other kinds of manual labor, or scattered across the fast food industry. I’ll be alright because I intend to marry someone fabulously wealthy, but most people are stuck hauling chicken carcasses.

    I’m frustrated. During the 13 years I lived in a cage, I put myself through college. I clerked at the prison law library, completed courses in paralegal studies and civil litigation, filed five lawsuits against the Georgia Department of Corrections and in three of them represented myself. I earned my Doctor of Theology, from a program where the rest of the students were not incarcerated and I had to complete the same coursework in the brief windows it was safe to take out my contraband Android. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m too good for Taco Bell. But I do think it’s fair to say that I’ve driven myself into the ground for years out of determination to transcend my circumstances. And for what?

    The SOR rhetoric purports to be about rehabilitation and second chances. I would like that second chance very much. What exactly am I supposed to be doing that I haven’t already done? Why do they even bother letting people out, when all roads lead right back in?



    Photograph via Arizona Department of Housing

    • C is a writer and advocate interested in prison/criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, harm reduction and government/cultural criticism. She has studied history/theology with the Third Order of Carmelites and completed degrees in Systematic Theology. She is currently studying law.

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