Charles “Roscoe” Heaton stood at the freeway exit with a homemade cardboard sign last February, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. “Emory University grad, can’t get work. Need a job, food, or money. Need help…Thanks.” Dressed in a pinstriped navy blue suit with gold cuff links and carrying a black briefcase, Roscoe looks like a banker or a broker you can trust. He is articulate, friendly and unfailingly polite. Roscoe, 31, is an attractive job candidate. He often gets a second interview, and sometimes an offer on the spot. The employer must do a background check. And that reveals a different kind of credential: Roscoe is a felon.
On his 17th birthday, Roscoe pointed a pistol at a neighborhood kid and threatened to blow his head off. Roscoe was locked up for two years, four months and 24 days. He vowed to send himself to college, a goal rarely attempted or achieved by the 650,000 prisoners released nationwide every year. Roscoe believed a degree would help him find “quality employment” — the best way, experts say, to avoid joining the 46.8 percent of offenders who are reconvicted within three years of release. Roscoe learned that no matter what he achieved, no matter what his resume said, he was defined by his criminal record. It was a modern-day scarlet letter. Only when he accepted his past, reports the Journal-Constitution, and encountered someone with a scarlet letter of his own, did a lock unexpectedly click open. Behind that door may reside Roscoe’s second chance.