Post by Susan Mwarabu
I sit on a bench watching my son playing in a sand pit. Another boy materializes and joins him, and in an instant they strike a friendship complete with rules on how they plan to share the few tools they will need for whatever project they are about to embark on. Such are the unconditional friendships children can foster without any judgment and expectations.
Recognizing the opportunity for a much-needed break from incessant 6 year old chatter, I focus on the book I have brought with me for the express purpose of warding off adult playground conversation. The book doesn’t seem to ward off the other boy’s mom because she sidles over for the most common playground pastime, ‘mommy chat’. Up until my offense, this used to be one of my favorite activities. Through ‘mommy chat’, I made friends and learned about great mom-related activities to register for, saving me from lots of research and catalog reading time. I learned what schools were good, which teachers to avoid, and even what pediatrician was absolutely magical with kids.
But after my offense, I felt like the words ex-offender were literally taped to my forehead. I didn’t feel comfortable engaging in ‘mommy chat’ because I was scared what other moms would think if they knew I had been tangled up in legal problems in the past.
I couldn’t plan play dates. I didn’t feel like I had given the other moms enough information about myself to give them a chance to decide if they wanted to extend the friendship beyond the playground.
Being an ex-offender has a way of affecting you in a way that, while invisible to the world, is completely real and alive for the person experiencing it. The term ex-offender means that you just can’t pick up and go for an overnight stay in the nearby city. It means you can’t just obtain any job you want. And even if you get to apply for a job you feel qualified for, you still have to overcome the stigma and barriers that are in place to keep you from obtaining the job.
It is a kind of invisible branding that leaves a seared logo of shame and embarrassment forever to be explained in different check points of your life.
I want to be part of life, to be normal, yet I know my past is not normal and will always need to be told. My hope is that one day, it will be okay to talk about mistakes and still be part of the community. Still be viewed as a valuable contributing member of the community. Perhaps one day, a job interview won’t seem like a mini trial but a chance to demonstrate the skills one has.
Until that day comes, and I know it will, places such as Amicus will continue the march towards that conclusion. I found unconditional friendships in Amicus and I hope that one day, I can sit down in a playground without a book and just strike up a friendship without worrying what parts I need to edit.
- Amicus One to One: Making a Friend and Changing Society (insidechange.wordpress.com)
- A Son’s Incarceration Provides an Unexpected Gift (insidechange.wordpress.com)