It didn’t matter that Jonsson had been out of prison for fifteen years and had lived a straight life. He was turned down because of his criminal past, which continues to haunt him.
Since his release from prison in 1996, Jonsson says he has never been able to get a job that paid more than $23,000 a year. “Those positions always had a glass ceiling of pay and I was never able to get higher than I did at any one job,” he said. “The stigma of my past is something that keeps holding me up, and I’m unable to do the things I want to do in my life, like have a family, children.”
The forty-year-old Oakland resident is one of thousands of ex-convicts in California who struggle to find financial stability after incarceration. The problem is particularly magnified in Oakland, which has a large population of ex-felons and a high unemployment rate. The fact that even Jonsson can’t catch a break, despite actively trying to succeed and not reoffending since being released, is indicative of how challenging the situation is. (source)
When we consider that African Americans and Latinos are over represented in the penal industrial complex, a racial angle to this situation is impossible to ignore. Race and class play a huge factor in who has contact with the police, and who gets imprisoned, therefore; it is possible to surmise that once again people of colour are being unfairly stigmatized when their sentences are finished.
When it comes to prison, rehabilitation is no longer a goal. Prisons are nothing than large businesses. They crowd as many people as possible into as small a space, and then feed them food that is substandard. It is overheated during the summer not properly heated in the winter and the close quarters cause viruses to spread like wildfire through the institutions. In some cases medical needs are not even provided for. Female prisoners have sanitary issues during menstruation because of an unreasonably low number of hygiene products being issued. Prisoners are treated little better than animals while serving their time and yet we still expect them to avoid re-offending. Tough on crime means more police, longer sentences and more prisons. It does not mean ending the factors that lead to prison or create recidivism.
The truth is that for far too many, a felony conviction is actually a lifetime sentence. Unless you are somehow able to start a business, the likelihood of employment is low and a job that provides a subsistence wage even lower. Jean Valjean is not simply a fictional character; he lives in the heart of every single ex-felon searching for a second chance. It is a vicious circle because in many cases, society creates the environment and the need for crime – benefits through imprisonment and then creates an underclass, which it can oppress indefinitely, because these people are viewed as surplus population.
We should care because how we treat the least amongst us because it is a reflection of the worth of our society. The prison system is little more than a revolving door of pain and misery. It effects more than the person incarcerated – children are growing without their parents and families are doing without their loved ones. Society also is forfeiting and incredible amount of human capitol each year these people are allowed to rot in prison cells. We do not look at them and see potential and that is our own shortcoming.