There has been a time in everyone’s life when they look back and say, ‘I shouldn’t have done that.’ Then there are the times when we are young, between the ages of 17 and 25, and we get caught, sent to jail, or, if deemed appropriate, prison. Sometimes those crimes committed by the young men and women were non-violent and had something to do with a controlled substance.
The individual gets sentenced to the Department of Corrections, does their time, and gets released back into society as a felon. In our lovely state of Florida, if you commit a nonviolent crime that is tied to controlled substances, you are treated equal to those who have committed greater crimes, such as murder and rape.
The non-violent drug offenders, who have done their time, and have gone above and beyond and received substance abuse treatment, are running into issues that are not equal to the crimes they have committed.
There are many barriers that these fine men and women are facing on a daily basis; gaining employment, finding suitable housing, gaining access to higher education, and career advancement.
There is a man I know who committed a non-violent drug charge when he was 20. He was picked up and arrested for having psilocybin (Mushrooms that grow from cow feces) in his possession. He was adjudicated guilty and was sentenced to one year and one day in a State Prison. He was released in 2005 and had to immediately register as a felon. He successfully completed his State Probation requirements and had his civil rights restored the following year.
Now, this same man is in graduate school to gain an MSW (Master of Social Work). His goal is to help those who are suffering from addiction; however, his past will not make it that easy because he cannot pass a level 2 security clearance.
The State of Florida does not allow individuals like him to seal or expunge his record, so what are his options? He can either try to go through the maze of the exemption process, which only deals with one of the issues, but what about the housing? He has proven he is not the same person today as he was 15 years ago and wants to help people. There are many good men and women with real life experience that made bad choices.
Is it fair to keep punishing them when they have so much to offer our towns, cities, and State?
This story is about me; these are my barriers and the barriers of those I serve. This is something I believe needs to be brought back to light. Every day we are learning more about addiction and its causes, however the state doesn’t allow these individuals, myself included, to seal or expunge a piece of their past when they were too young to know better.
Submitted by Joel Breneman, CAP, ICADC, BS. Breneman moved to the Naples area in 1999. He works with those who are afflicted with substance abuse and have all the aforementioned items in common. He currently works at the St. Matthew’s House and has been a part of the Justin’s Place Recovery Program since June 2011.
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