Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pumpkin Pies and Ex-Offender Employment

I like pumpkin pie. In fact, it’s my favorite part of Thanksgiving. But over the years as my family has grown, my annual share of the pie has decreased. A few years ago, it was common for me to have a slice after the big dinner, another one a few hours later before bed, and then what Thanksgiving Friday is complete without pumpkin pie and a coffee first thing? Today, with my kids knocking on the door of high school and the teenage years, I’m lucky if I get a piece after dinner. We have a serious need to increase the production of pie around our house.

I’ve noticed lately that people are approaching life like it’s a box of pumpkin pie. No, we’ve not collectively bought into a Forest Gump holiday-themed philosophy. But society is operating under the big fear that there are only a limited number of pieces in the pie. To get ahead, you have to fight for your share. We seem to have forgotten that we are capable of baking more pies.

Over the last few months, the volume of complaints about ex-offenders and employment has grown across the internet. People are increasingly blogging anger when they discover that a company has hired an ex-offender. In the same way, the media quickly sensationalizes when a business or government hires someone after failing to adequately screen them for past felony offenses. It’s as if our society is acting out a 21st Century version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. We’ve collectively morphed into the justice-seeking Javert failing to realize that grace and a second chance actually make financial sense for our state budgets.

I understand the great recession is fueling this chorus of complaint. People are out of work and feel slighted when someone who has broken the rules moves to the front of the line. But we need to remember the pie isn’t static. We aren’t fighting over a limited number of pieces.

When an ex-offender achieves a job, the pie grows in size because of two factors. First, the cost to government decreases because the likelihood of the individual returning to prison declines. And second, the ex-offender is now able to support his or her family, once again reducing the need for government assistance, as well as allowing him or her to buy goods and services from other businesses further enlarging the pie.

A philosophy of growing pies lies behind my enthusiasm for faith venture businesses. Like it or not, ex-offenders will always face huge barriers to finding employment and self-sufficiency. The realities of legal liability and commercial insurance make it difficult for businesses to hire individuals rebuilding lives from prison. That’s why I am an advocate for expanding the pie through the creation of felony-friendly businesses run by Christ-following entrepreneurs. Or, even better, creating business mentoring and funding opportunities to help the ex-offender create his or her own business. Then no one can say someone’s job is being taken away. Instead, taxes are being reduced while another person’s life finds its way to redemption and the joy of supporting one’s family. That’s a cause I think we can all support.

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