THE UNITED STATES IS NOT a horrible place to live for most people. But it can be for people who have committed crimes in the past. Last year, an anonymous poster on the website Quora wrote about his difficulty finding jobs in the United States, and his dilemma as to whether or not he should leave the country to seek employment.
“I ruined my life at an early age. I committed and was convicted of two separate non-violent offenses (embezzlement and forgery of a financial document). It’s been 8 years since I’ve last been in trouble, and I’ve turned my life around.
The poster has received his GED, as well as an Bachelor’s, and he’s in the process of getting a Masters in Information Technology. But now, whenever he seeks employment, background checks turn up the felony, and he is rejected. Housing has even been difficult to come by.
“I made horrible choices, and I will regret those choices for the rest of my life, but I am not a bad person. Foolish? Perhaps, but not an evil person. It’s incredibly frustrating. How can I ever move on when I am not given a fair chance to integrate into society and become a productive member?
“I feel that moving to another country would allow me to get a fair chance at life. A part of me wants to see it through here in the states and hope I get one chance to prove myself. The other part of me knows I will not be given a chance and that I should move while I’m still semi-young.”
The responses are pretty incredible. There seems to be a general consensus that the United States is particularly unforgiving when it comes to forgiving reformed criminals. Commenter Alan Cohen said, “Some felonies just don’t matter, others are damning. Forgery and embezzlement are the types of crimes that quite frankly, will limit your employment forever.”
The question of course arises: Don’t we want our felons to reassimilate? Isn’t the ideal end goal of the criminal justice system that if criminals serve their time, they can be redeemed in the eyes of society? Commenter Jeff Lee noted, “American business culture has (mistakenly) adopted a ‘no-felony record will be considered’ at many companies, again, because they can in this market, and any way to reduce a risk is almost always chosen.”
Many commenters pointed out (somewhat erroneously) that it’s difficult for felons to get passports. This turns out to only be partially true: felons can get passports depending on the crime they committed, and with some restrictions. Some countries, however, will not grant visas to people with criminal records.
That said, another (also Anonymous) commenter had been in a similar situation, except he had been convicted in the United Kingdom:
“I have travelled and worked extensively around the world living in Spain, Belarus, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Honduras, Thailand and the US. The only place I’ve ever travelled to which has presented a problem with my criminal record is the US. It’s the only place I’ve been that asks you about it, and in my case, had I been honest about it, would have required me to go through a full visa process for every single trip to the USA for the rest of my life.”
The United States’ inability to forgive seems particularly ridiculous considering that 1 in 40 U.S. voting age adults has a felony conviction, and it seems particularly irrational that we are not giving people who have turned their lives around a chance to redeem themselves, which is why so many commenters suggested that the poster leave the country.
The best response was from Thomas Clarke, who wrote:
Leave the country. Reboot your life. I’ve been living in Thailand for 3 years now and getting outside the bubble of US culture has been an incredibly eye-opening experience. Home of the free is an illusion. I love the US, but until you get outside of it you don’t understand freedom…
…Get out, gain some perspective, bootstrap a new life someplace drastically cheaper. There are shit tons of western expats all over SE Asia doing this everyday. Geo-arbitrage, earn in dollars from anywhere, spend in drastically lower cost of living country, in local currency. You’re young, and you’ll always be a US citizen and you can return as often as you like.
There were, of course, many other commenters who remarked on the difficulty of building a life abroad, from minding local regulations to getting passports, renewing visas, or dealing with INTERPOL in the terrorism age. But the fear to leave the country and start anew seems to be the most irrational response for a young man who is trying to get his life back on track.
You can read the entire thread at Quora