FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – President Barack Obama’s phone call to Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie congratulating him for giving convicted dog fighter Michael Vick a second chance has sparked controversy about its appropriateness.
But some people say it’s shed a light on the long-hidden problem of people with criminal records being unable to find work.
“In the beginning I thought, ‘He messed up,'” said Nirvana Sukhandan of Fort Worth about Vick. “So he deserved to lose just about everything he had.”
Sukhandan said experience changed her mind. She attends a job reentry class in Fort Worth along with dozens of other people with criminal records who want to reenter the workplace.
Sukhandan took a plea bargain on a credit card fraud settlement and is on probation. One of her classmates, Michael Hain, spent 24 years in jail on murder and burglary charges.
“Whether you’re a murderer or a shoplifter, in the eyes of the employer you’re the same,” Sukhandan said.
The class teaches people to negotiate the biggest hurdle in their lives: Overcoming their criminal record during the job application and interview process.
“You put ‘I Will Discuss,'” Hain said of his response on job applications to the question of prior criminal records. “I used to put burglary. You know, the lesser offense. But there’s a lot of applications I didn’t turn in.”
Hain does not have a high school diploma and finds navigating online applications difficult. He said he hopes to take GED courses to improve his reading and writing skills.
Sukhandan has a college diploma in accounting. She said it’s useless now with her prior criminal record. Sukhandan also has experience in food service and had signed a deal to be the manager of beverages in a grocery store. But her dream job quickly vanished.
“Seven or eight days later they came back and said, ‘We can’t hire you. Even though it wasn’t a conviction, we can’t do it,'” Sukhandan said. “And that’s what burned me because I’d worked so hard to make a comeback.”
Hain was laid off his janitorial job. He hasn’t found work since and is homeless.
“I’m a hard worker,” Hain said tearfully. “I need a job. I need to work.”
Many here wonder if Vick truly appreciates the second chance he has.
“I think he’s very lucky,” Sukhandan said. “Because most people, they’re not as lucky as him.”