Can a former drug addict and felon on welfare really change? (Part 2)

SaraIn part two of Sara’s story she shares in her own words what she went through as a drug addict, why reintegrating into society can be harder for women, and what has helped change her life. But a proposed piece of legislation in Pennsylvania, House Bill 129, could hurt women like Sara who are trying to rebuild their lives.

(Sara’s story was originally published on our blog on June 6, 2015.)

<< Part 1 of Sara’s story

I took care of my father for two years until he died of cancer in 2011. Following his death I moved in with my son’s father. That’s where I’ve been since. His family owns the house so we don’t have to pay rent, just the bills. So I’ve been able to go back to school.

Now I am an honors student at CCAC. The only semester I didn’t make the Dean’s list was my first semester; I missed 3.6 by a point or two. I’ve managed to pull a 4.0 twice! I was invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society but wasn’t able to commit to some of the mandatory trips they take because of my son.

My son just turned 4 in May. My daughter comes on weekends and summers. Other than that I’m a full-time student going to school for social work, which I should be finishing up this July. I already got my drug and alcohol counseling diploma.

People should know how easy it is to start using drugs—how innocently you can go into it, but before you know it you’re in over your head. Addiction makes your decisions for you. A lot of people think we do this willingly or we just don’t want to stop.

HB 129 harms people who are trying to rebuild their lives and care for their families.Every day I went to sleep praying that I would not use the next day. But I woke up and did anyways. I wish people understood that part of it.

Felonies restrict you from so much these days! How do legislators expect us to live when no one wants to hire you or rent you an apartment or anything? I don’t see how that’s not discrimination[ii]. I feel like they should only be allowed to go back maybe 5 years when doing a background check.

I had applied for a job at Dollar General while I was pregnant with my son. They interviewed me and everything went really well and they offered me a job as an assistant manager. Two days before I was supposed to start I got a call that I didn’t pass the background check and that they are sorry but they have to retract their offer. I thought that was insane, but I didn’t do anything about it.

A few months ago though, I got a check in the mail from Dollar General for $50. When I called to look into it, there had been a lawsuit against them about denying people a job with a criminal history. So even though I wasn’t officially part of the lawsuit my name had come up and they sent me a check. It is good to see they can’t get away with that.

There’s also a huge sexist angle to this too! I know men who went to jail for robbing a bank, served their time, got out, and within the same year they landed some kind of union job and are making a killer living. Where are all the jobs like that for women—especially a convicted felon woman? There aren’t any!

To me, that’s because of the old world beliefs that the man is the primary breadwinner and supports the family. That’s fine and dandy but these days, families need two incomes and Lord only knows how many single moms are out there trying to support their families on their own.

I’d like to find a way to use my social work degree to advocate for these types of things! I guess God will open the right doors if/when He sees fit.

People who have made mistakes should get support so they can move forward with their lives. HB 129 would punish people for life.My faith has helped me so much in my life. It really gets me through anything. And my mistakes—they’ve taught me a lot about myself and have made me change. A lot of people do things that are wrong in life but they don’t realize it or they don’t take a look at and really inventory it, and they don’t change.

But I was forced to. I’m the kind of person that sees a silver lining in anything. It might take me some time and I might not see it right away but eventually I do. My dad always taught me if I do something wrong, don’t run. Tell the truth. Show up and face the music. That’s really helped me overcome a lot.

My dad was born and raised in Italy, moved here, dropped out of school in the 8th grade and worked his entire life. He started his own business and did really well for himself.

My mom for mental health reasons got onto welfare when she left him. So I was raised on welfare and kind of transitioned into staying on it. I really want to break that cycle. I don’t want my kids to end up like that. That’s why I’m in school. I want to see my kids have something different.

What You Can Do

orange arrowCheck to see how your Pa. Rep. voted on HB 129? (Republican House members are listed first, then Democrats. Not sure who’s yours? Find out here.)

  • If Yes (green thumbs up) call to express your disappointment. They voted to make it harder for struggling women to rebuild their lives.
  • If No (red thumbs down) call to thank them for opposing a misguided policy that just makes life even harder for struggling women and their children.

And stay tuned for taking action in the Pa. Senate!

[ii] Job seekers with criminal records have some legal rights under federal and state laws that place some limits on how employers can use an applicant’s criminal record when deciding whether or not to hire that person. “Under Pennsylvania law, an employer may consider an applicant’s felony or misdemeanor convictions in the hiring process only if they relate to the applicant’s suitability for the job. If an employer decides not to hire someone based on his or her criminal record, the employer must so inform the applicant in writing.”

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