Kimberly survived severe physical and sexual abuse during her first three decades of life, and the impacts of trauma and lack of support or guidance made it hard for her to take care of herself or control her behaviour. A juvenile criminal record transitioned to an adult one, including convictions for assaulting a caseworker who wouldn’t let her see her children, and another assault against an abusive partner who wouldn’t return her wallet. She lived with a partner who sold drugs and was present when the home was raided by police, resulting in convictions for narcotics and gun possession.
Kimberly was about 30 when another abusive partner nearly killed her. This time, she knew she had to make a big change. A police officer helped her access resources for domestic violence victims so she could relocate to a new city. She cut ties with everyone in her old life and was determined to make a fresh start. Soon, she started looking for jobs. “And, in searching for work, everything says, ‘No criminal record.’ ‘Must have a clean criminal record.’”
Kimberly eventually did find work, but her criminal record creates fear, humiliation and uncertainty around any kind of employment transition. She once took a new job – disclosing her criminal record as part of the process – only to be part of a mass firing of all recent hires with criminal histories just a few weeks later.
She retrained for a higher-paying career – taking online classes at night while working full-time during the day for a year – only to learn her criminal record prevented her from taking the entry-to-practice exam.
“Pretty much every time my criminal record comes up, when it’s pertaining to employment, I usually have a full-on meltdown for a couple of days where I’m crying in bed,” Kimberly said. “I go into shutdown mode, because I know I have to talk about my personal life again. I’ve got to talk about the things that I’ve worked so hard to socially overcome, mentally overcome, physically overcome. And every time, it’s right back on my doorstep.”
“Everybody says, ‘Oh, everybody has skeletons in their closet.’ Nope, mine are right here behind me, shackled to my ankles, and they just walk right behind me every step of my day, everywhere I go.”
Kimberly spent more than a year working on her application for a criminal record suspension, missing work about two dozen times for appointments and paperwork related to the process, straining her relationship with her employer. Her first application to the Parole Board was denied because of clerical errors in her court records. Kimberly had to get the court to correct them and resubmit her application again, going to the back of the waiting line for a decision.
The process took so long that she missed her first two chances to take her professional licensing exam. She has two more tries and is studying hard so she can pass it before the deadline.
For Kimberly, having a clean criminal record means greater financial security and an end to the shame, humiliation and fear around job searching. But most important is the message it sends to her children. She lost custody of them when they were young, but has built a great relationship with them now.
“All of this tells my girls a story as far as I’m concerned. …It doesn’t matter where you go or what you’ve done, you can always change it,” Kimberly said. “That’s a huge lesson that I want my children to know. That because they ended up being in the system, it doesn’t mean we have to allow that to control the rest of our lives. We don’t have to be system kids for the rest of our lives.”