On March 2017, the Calgary John Howard Society (CJHS) launched the I Am More Than My Criminal Record public education initiative to give individuals with a criminal record an opportunity to share their experiences and voice who they truly are. By sharing these stories with the public, we hope to reduce the stigma associated with a record.
Spark for the vision
A client in our Pathway to Employment Program was sharing his frustrations over being asked about his criminal record when applying for work. Time and time again, they would not hire him – though he met the job qualifications and had the required experience. Trying to maintain composure – fighting back tears – he said:
“I am not the person I used to be when I committed those crimes. I have changed. I am more than that…I am more than my criminal record.”
This conversation took place in the midst of the economic downturn in Alberta’s oil and gas industry – making it increasingly difficult to obtain employment. As a response, the CJHS employment team has focused its efforts on building relationships with employers, expanding the available training options for clients, and tailoring casework to an individual’s needs/goals. Despite these efforts, our clients have continued to struggle with finding work.
The stories and struggles of our clients prompted the CJHS team to consider the unique employment barriers they faced in an already competitive employment market. One major barrier that was identified was that the stigma associated with criminal justice system involvement was resulting in discrimination against our clients.
The I Am More than My Criminal Record public education initiative is the strategy that has been developed to address this stigma – a platform for people with past criminal justice system involvement to share their experiences and voice who they truly are. Education requires connection, and we believe there is no greater power to build this connection than the words and images of exactly those individuals who need to be recognized as the unique, dynamic, and highly employable people that they are.