The other day, I say to my class at the jail, "Invest in a good erasable black pen."
We are talking about filling out job applications, and I am speaking from experience. My brain and my hands are not always in sync. I often make mistakes when I write.
After class, I drive to campus to hear author and naturalist Terry Tempest Williams speak. She shares some excerpts from her book When Women Were Birds.
"I am writing on the blank page of my mother's journal, not with a pen, but a pencil. I like the idea of erasure," she reads. "The permanence of ink is an illusion."
While she is signing books, she tells us about the project she's currently working on, a piece about our national parks. It's gotten complicated, she says, because these treasures are rooted in some of our country's most grievous acts. We need to acknowledge what we've done, remember hard-earned lessons, and embrace what we have moving forward.
We talk in my class about handling questions about criminal records in job interviews. "I hear you just got out of jail," a hiring manager might ask. "What's up with that?" Own what you've done, I say, but instead of being defensive, or justifying yourself, or whitewashing, focus on what you've learned from your experiences. Get the conversation on terms that help you create a future instead of trapping you in the past.
We talk about the dreaded question on job applications. Have you ever been convicted of a felony? A check in the box marked "yes" looks so stark, there in the black ink on the white page, the applicant not yet a real human being in the eyes of the person sorting through stacks of applications, looking for ways to pare them down. But hiding the truth and marking "no" doesn't just thwart a path to redemption, it is risky. It is too easy to be found out in the age of the Internet. The goal is not just to get a job; the goal is to have a job.
We talk about the possibility of getting records expunged, and how the judge will want to know what you have been doing in the meantime to set your life straight. According to the state bureau of criminal identification, "Once the expungement is complete, you may respond to any question pertaining to the expunged record as if it never happened." And yet, when a person is granted full permission to check the box marked "no," it will never be possible to do it without being conscious of the fact it once was a "yes."
In life, we are bound to remember what we've written.
The permanence of erasure is an illusion.
But with a good erasable black pen, and if we see our mistakes clearly, we can make corrections.