During my career as a police officer I recall moments when compassion and a second chance were warranted. It was through law enforcement that I realized character is not always accurately reflected by a criminal record or a bad decision. I have learned that people function according to their level of awareness. If people do not have access to information or resources conducive to awareness, then, they become students of trial and error.
I arrested a man, who we will call “D.D.,” on felony warrants for drugs and weapons charges. D.D.’s reputation preceded him and it was known that he did not like the police. Most of the local officers acknowledged that he was known for putting up a good fight whenever encountered by police. On a nice sunny day I happened to come across D.D. and served the open warrant. He certainly had a foul mouth and expressed his disgust for law enforcement and my former agency but beneath his vulgarities and aggravation I heard frustration. It was not me that D.D. had an issue with because I had never met him prior to this encounter. It was the badge and what I represented that he disliked. To him it was his circumstances associated with an agency that he deemed was designed to handicap a man who was trying to make a living to do the right thing by his family. He was a felon, a husband and a father with only a tenth grade education and he did not have the resources to make better informed decisions.
D.D. was not able to find a job to provide for his family and in his mind the law messed that up for him because he was now a felon. During the booking process I shared a story with D.D. about how hard work pays dividends. I encouraged him to get his G.E.D and counter act his rap sheet by setting a good example for his children so they would not have to go through the same ordeal. No one forced him to sell drugs. He chose that option based on the information he had from his environment. I made him aware of the accountability piece which he could not see in the beginning. D.D. spent time in prison and years had gone by. As an officer I began shifting my efforts and attention to community programming and became a School Resource Officer to work with at-risk youths. I was certainly coming into the realization that counseling was a more suitable route for my passion.
Out of the blue I received a message from D.D in my departmental email stating he needed my help. At the time I was puzzled. A couple years had passed and I thought to myself “didn’t I arrest you a few years ago yet you are asking someone who works for an organization you dislike for help?” I thought it was odd but after reading his email I communicated with D.D. on several occasions to make sure his actions were sincere and in fact he was. D.D. obtained his G.E.D in prison and educated himself on various trades. I was impressed by his ambition but he expressed how the reality of being a felon left him with nowhere to turn. He made dozens of attempts to find a job and no one was willing to hire him. His record and prior actions did not reflect the man he had grown to be yet he was being judged for it.
In spite of the continual rejection he was committed to a better future for himself and his family without returning to the life of selling drugs. Without hesitation I did all that I could with the resources I had at the time. In the end, D.D. was given a second chance by a company that was willing to overlook his criminal past and hire him as a maintenance worker based on the evidence of his turn around and character witnesses. He is still with the company and in fact after a follow up he was considered one of the hardest working employees for that company. D.D. taught me to never judge the book by its cover because it may be worth reading.
Kareem Puranda is a counselor-in-training at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is an advocate for the disadvantaged population and can be reached at email@example.com.