Living a simple, post-retirement life in Dallas, Beverly Harrison can be described as a grandmother, a churchgoer, and former city employee. But, despite seeking a job that would allow her to get out of the house and earn extra income, a forty-year-old conviction still haunts her.
Harrison talks about that conviction in a blog post she wrote for the Marshall Project, a criminal justice reform group. She says she was 18 and – like most other teenagers – got into a fight. Unfortunately for Harris, the fight didn’t end there; the other girl’s father decided to press charges and, at 19, Harris was convicted and sentenced to five years of probation.
“After successfully completing two years of my sentence, a court set aside my conviction and dismissed the indictment against me. I took to heart a statement in the court’s order that thereafter I would be ‘released formal penalties and disabilities’ stemming from my conviction.”
For many, they think that is the end of their ordeal. In reality, it can be just the beginning.
Though they are technically “released” from those penalties and disabilities, convictions follow them seemingly forever and re-emerge when it comes time to apply for apartments and loans, obtain certain certifications, and, in Harris’ case, employment.
Harrison went on to work for the City of Dallas for 28 years, never once thinking that her previous conviction would impact her current life.
“I also worked for several years as a home health aide,” says Harrison. “All the while, I spent countless hours volunteering at the church my father founded, where I cooked in the kitchen, helped run a clothing donation program, and prepared lunches for kids during the summer.”
Though retired, Harrison was looking for a way to supplement her retirement income and continue to help children, so she took a position with another governmental entity, Dallas County Schools. After only eight days on her job as a crossing guard for DCS, human resources told her that her record made her ineligible to work there. She was fired.
“Conversations with school officials confirmed that, at age 57, I was being denied a job for a mistake I made when I was barely 18,” said Harris. Harris has not received another conviction in her four decades since the last.
Nearly one in three United States adults has a conviction on their record and many of them are like Harris. Few would argue that her previous convictions should bar her from any employment, especially being a crossing guard. Unfortunately, in many instances, it does.
When it comes to government entities, prior convictions, especially ones that are four decades old, should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis rather than categorically labeling an applicant ineligible. Harrison is hoping her story changes the state’s perception of ex-offenders and make Texas “a more inclusive and prosperous state for all who call it home.”