“It’s just barrier after barrier after barrier. It’s death from a thousand paper cuts. It is a life sentence. I am resentenced every time somebody reads that background report. Twelve years later I am called a criminal and told that I am unfit to work. It’s not true. It’s not fair.”
As the sixth of seven children, Sue endured a childhood filled with poverty and abuse. Despite that, she excelled in school. In the first grade, she was reading at a 12-grade level. But Sue’s sister was sexually abusing her and her parents were unable to support her in the ways she needed.
She started drinking at 13 to dull the pain. With alcohol, she didn’t have to think and she didn’t have to feel. “That alcohol saved me. Because I couldn’t take being me.” Her parents had no idea she was drunk all of the time; they kicked her out of the house for skipping school too many times. She was 14.
Sue married an abusive man and started having kids. The domestic violence escalated her addiction; she turned to methamphetamines. To support her drug habit, she started stealing people’s mail. Soon after, she served 15 months in federal prison, during which the State of Washington also charged her. She came out of federal prison owing $30,000 (with no interest) and pled guilty to the State charges. She owes over $4,500 on the state charges, most of it interest. She makes a $15 payment every month.
Through much of her life, she did well professionally, as an underwriter and loan officer. But after her convictions, such professions are no longer open to her. Even though it is 12 years since she was released from prison, she feels like she is resentenced every time a potential employer runs a background check. “Twelve years later, I am called a criminal and told that I am unfit to work. It’s not true. It’s not fair.” Sue is a full-time student now and works full-time for the start-up organization, Civil Survival.
IN sue's OWN WORDS . . .
“The sentence is a life sentence. You’ve sentenced me to 15 months in prison, a $30,000 fine, and three years of probation and that’s over. Except it’s not. It is a life sentence. I am resentenced every time somebody reads that background report. Twelve years later I am called a criminal and told that I am unfit to work. It’s not true. It’s not fair. It’s a civil rights violation, if you ask me. There is research out there, peer-reviewed research that says that if you have been out and finished and done for five years, if you are old like me, or seven years if you are young, that you are no more likely to commit a crime than you are. And yet I’m still held accountable for a crime I committed 15 years ago. I may have been done in 2006, but the crime was 15 years ago. 2001. You tell me if I am done. Of course I’m done. But I need to know how big is my pound of flesh. Because you said it was this big. You said it was 15 months, $30,000, and 3 years probation. I need you to hold to that. And if you are going to deny me housing and employment for the rest of my life, you need to put that in my sentencing.
I would not have pled guilty to the three state charges knowing what I know now. It’s ruined my life over and over and over. The federal conviction is not showing up. It’s the State."