Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Working With Convicts

I previously mentioned that we hired convicts when I worked at the truckstop. The work-release program that the State of Florida ran was actually very beneficial to us at the time. Now, I've been away from there for a while, so I don't know if they still hire them, or even if Florida runs such a program. But they did in the '80s and we worked the convicts.

First, let me say if anyone is offended by my use of the term "convicts," well I'm sorry ... that you are so thin-skinned. We can come up with more friendly terms, but calling someone who is actually serving time a "convict" is not the biggest problem they run into. If you previously served time in a state correctional institution (that's a prison), but are no longer there, you're not a convict. You're an ex-con. If you're still in prison, you're a convict.

We hired convicts at the truckstop. At the time, all convicts went through a screening process at the prison, and we had our own process at the truckstop. One of the parts, in addition to the one-on-one interview, was the polygraph test. If they didn't want to take the polygraph, they didn't have to. The state could place them at another business. We weren't hiring them without it. We didn't usually refuse to hire someone based upon the results of the polygraph. But sometimes we did refuse to hire someone. When that happened, we told the prison that we had more applicants than positions. We never said anything to the prison to cause the convict any difficulties. But, like I was saying, most of the time, we didn't refuse to hire based upon the polygraph. But we did use it for placing people.

For example, if the person was a thief, particularly with a history of petty theft, if we hired him, he was placed in a position where he didn't handle money and wasn't generally in contact with small merchandise. Basically, our attitude was "once a thief, always a thief." If they worked for a period of time (possibly up to six months) and proved themselves worthy of more trust, we adjusted things based upon our experience, rather than our suspicions. So, yes, we did occasionally have a convicted thief handling money. It was rare, but it happened.

If someone was a drug dealer, we'd work them around money and merchandise. If they were big-time enough to make it to prison for drug-dealing but not theft, they were probably very responsible with money. I guess you'd have to be if you were in that line of work. If you steal from your employer in the legitimate business world, they'll fire you or perhaps even call the police. If you steal from the drug bosses, they'll put a tire around your neck and douse you with gasoline. Most drug-dealers who make the work-release program were good with money. Never came up a single penny short.

Killers were also usually very responsible. Some people get a strange look on their face when I say this. You might have one right now. But let me explain. If someone is locked up for killing someone, and they qualify for a work-release program, odds are pretty good that they are not another Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer. They usually killed their wife's or girlfriend's boyfriend. Or the wife or girlfriend. Or both. Unless you get into a relationship like that with them, you'll probably be fine. Think about it like this. Do you know someone, say a friend, family member, or co-worker, or maybe yourself, who said "If I'd had a gun I'd have killed him," when talking about some situation that upset them? Well, these convicts are those people, only they did have a gun and did kill. Your friend or whatever certainly didn't mean it, but these killers didn't, either -- afterwards.

I got some stories about some of the convicts we had working for us, but that's for another day. For now, realize that not everyone who served time is a hardened criminal. Now, true, some do pick back up a life of crime. Some can't really adjust to life on the outside. But some do just fine.

When I first encountered working with convicts, it was a little uncomfortable. But, I didn't let any prejudice I had prevent me from working with them. In fact, there was a period where we hired more convicts than free people. Some of the people we hired off the street were really trouble. They wouldn't show up for work. They'd do a half-assed job. They'd steal from you. So, we polygraphed all new employees, not just convicts. You could do that back then. Not sure if you can now, but I'm actually glad we could then. For a period of about six months, the best crop of new-hires came from the prison. Then they had a problem at the prison. Don't know if it was a riot or someone at another business complained about something, or what, but they pulled all of the convicts from the program. So, we actually had to lower our hiring standards and hire people that weren't convicts. Things eventually got back to normal, and the local pool of potential hires improved.

That made me realize that the difference between some work-release convicts and some people walking around free is that the convicts were already screened by the state, and some of the people walking around just hadn't been caught yet.

Linked at Beltway Traffic Jam

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