“We as a society, fell into this lifetime scarlet-letter situation accidentally through technology,” Marc Levin of the conservative reform group Right on Crime tells Al Jazeera. “I don't think anyone thought because you had a drug offense when you were 18, that it should plague you until you're 80.” Jesse Killings, formerly of Spokane, Wa., is an example. He served prison time on domestic violence and burglary, and he says the felony convictions have cast an immeasurably long shadow on his life since then.
He's had to rely on homeless shelters and draw from food banks. Killings says he accepts responsibility for the mistakes of his past and only wants to rebuild his life. Redemption is hard to find when his decade-old record stands in the way of a steady employment and a decent wage, even after he moved across the country to Fredericksburg, Va., “An individual has to be in the right place in their walk with the conviction to want to stay out of trouble and do it legally,” said Ann Fisher of Virginia Cares, a public-private partnership that provides services to returning offenders. “The number one deterrent I would say to recidivism would be a legal, living wage. It makes a huge difference.”