Fear of Occupying

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Post by Susan Mwarabu

Perhaps the most ubiquitous emotion an ex-offender goes through upon release is the fear of making a mistake that could result in revocation of their probation or parole. A common thread of all probationary and parole terms is that an ex-offender must avoid having any negative contact with law enforcement. It is a rule that makes perfect sense because it is designed to impress the importance of abiding by the law.

For an ex-offender, fear takes several forms. There is fear of not getting a job, fear of not getting housing, fear of re-offending, fear of everyone knowing you have a criminal background. Basically, an ex-offender’s existence is riddled with fear, which serves as a backdrop of all actions they intend to take upon reentry into their communities. One  addition to an ex-offender’s set of fears is perhaps most evident in the recent public demonstrations taking place throughout the country.

Fear to re-offend has led to a  conspicuous lack of ex-offender representation in public demonstrations, such as in the recent Occupy Movement. Regardless of whether one approves of the protests, we would be hard pressed to find anyone currently on probation or parole holding a sign talking about restorative justice or any form of ex-offender issue.

An ex-offender involved in a public demonstration such as the Occupy Movement, would be risking the possibility of having contact with law enforcement, which could result in loss of parole and probationary privileges.   The Right to Assemble is therefore one constitutional right that an ex-offender would be reticent in exercising. The fear of re-offending drives an ex-offender to shroud themselves with the cloak of normalcy in the hopes of living a ‘normal’ life.  Fear of losing probation or parole privileges is perhaps the sole reason an ex-offender works hard to ‘blend in,’ because only then, does an ex-offender have a chance at gaining employment, obtaining housing and being part of a community.

While groups such as Amicus and the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition (of which Amicus is a member)  can provide a voice in support of fair policy for those with criminal records, too often, an ex-offenders’ fear of making themselves known relegates them to being a spectator in the happenings of their community.

What will our community look like if we do not find a way to reconcile and have discourse with those who have erred, paid their dues and are now ready to get back into the world?   One can’t help but wonder; what will be the fate of ex-offenders who may not have a voice to represent their plight?