“The call never comes”
Blum’s organization, My Father's House, helps men gain the skills they need to be successful post-prison. He said at least three of the men who frequent the house are currently out of work, one of whom was just released from prison and did not have a chance to look for a job before the pandemic began.
The other two, he said, have been laid off and are filing for unemployment.
"When they first get out of prison, men, especially those convicted of sexual offenses, aren't even allowed to access the internet, and they have to have permission, and that can take months to build the trust with the parole officer and the treatment providers and let them access the internet, and even have an email address," Blum said.
"To try to apply for a job in this world without an email address is just ridiculous. Every time you go on a website, the first thing they ask you is what's your email address. And so even if you can get permission to go to a monitored computer site, like at the parole office, and you go to a website, the very first thing they're going to ask you is for your email address."
At some point the parole officer will allow them to create an email address, but they can only access that email at the parole office, Blum said. The logistics are difficult, partly because they have to create a resume on a computer they're not familiar with, and they can't access their email every day.
When an employer finally gives someone with a criminal record a job interview, you can explain a felony as best you can, but it may not always make a difference, Blum said. The interview could be going well, and the interviewer could be impressed with the applicant's knowledge and experience, but it may end up being moot once they learn of the applicant’s record.
"The answer is just: 'Well, we'll give you a call.' And the call never comes," Blum said.
Though a recruiter may interview a candidate with a criminal record, most Human Resources departments will step in after that. Success in the interview is not a predictor of success in getting the job, Blum said.
"There's a whole series of decision makers that you never even get to meet," he said.
"At some point you end up with a whole class of people that have served their sentence, they've supposedly paid their debt to society, and yet they cannot enter into the economy, and into society at a regular level."
Blum noted that he himself is very blessed to be able to work full-time hours from home during the pandemic, and not be laid off, but "I'm in the minority, for sure, among felons."
“How does that make any sense?"
Brian, a Catholic living in Denver who is working to start a software consulting business, told CNA that he tried to apply for the emergency loan, but a misdemeanor on his record automatically excluded him.
Brian is on a diversion program and has a misdemeanor harassment charge on his record. While he does not have a felony on his record, he has found it difficult to find employment since his misdemeanor charge, despite being an experienced computer programmer.
"Now I'm going to have to suffer financially for it, as if I haven't suffered enough," he told CNA.
While it may be politically expedient to include a clause excluding those with criminal records from the emergency loan program, Blum said it ends up hurting not only the bosses, but the workers as well.
"By stopping the business owner— who was convicted of a felony five, six, seven years ago and served his time and paid his debt to society— by stopping that man from getting the loan, you're punishing another guy who's never committed a crime in his life, and that guy's family,” Blum said.
“[The worker] is going to lose his job because the business owner can't afford to pay the payroll. How does that make any sense?"
If the purpose of the emergency loan program is to relieve the American economy, he said, he doesn't see why a business owner's criminal history is important.
"They think they're punishing the business owner, but really they're punishing these other people," he said.