How should companies and professionals treat people who have a past criminal history but who have paid their debts to society by serving out sentences? Is it fair to dismiss someone’s ability to be a good employee solely on the basis of a prior criminal background? How can these people ever have a chance to turn their lives around and become reintegrated back into society, if no employer will give them a chance?
As a professional vocalist and musical entertainer, a number of years ago I formed a partnership with the leader of a band who had an outstanding reputation playing large nightclubs, festivals and private events. This band leader was one of the most gifted musicians and entertainers I had ever worked with, and he and I built a very successful following during the two years we performed together. As a team we both enjoyed many professional opportunities that never would have happened if we had not worked together. Our partnership ended, however, when I was tipped off that he was a convicted felon.
On a personal level, the nature of the crime made it difficult for me to continue to interact with him in the same way. I also felt that he had violated my trust by not disclosing the information. Indeed, the reason he had not disclosed the information to me from the beginning was because he thought I never would have worked with him, and he would have been right. On a professional level, I was concerned that my reputation would be damaged if others found out about his past and I continued to closely associate with him. But I also had to consider that the crime was committed 12 years earlier and he had served his criminal sentence.
At the time this information came to me, we had existing contracts to play many upcoming large and prestigious events. Given the financial and professional opportunities those events presented, I considered whether I could just continue as if I had never learned about the crime. If I disclosed his background to the companies who had contracted us to play, or if these companies found out on their own, many of them may have tried to cancel our performances. Our ability to perform and entertain had nothing to do with his criminal past, but still, I understood why people would be uneasy having a convicted felon entertaining at their party or event. Ultimately I decided that I could not work closely with someone who had violated my trust and engaged in activities that were so contrary to my expectations about tolerable behavior. I made the painful decision to terminate the partnership, and I sacrificed opportunities and earnings, as well as personal friendships because of this decision. It became a significant setback for my music career.
This person may well have been rehabilitated from his past behavior, and he continues to be a superb entertainer for venues that are willing to hire him or that are unaware of his criminal background. Did I make the right decision to discontinue working with him? If everyone reacted the way I did, then no formerly convicted felons would ever be able to work again or become productive members of society. However, I found the nature of his crime so despicable that I don’t know how I could have continued sharing the stage and interacting with him.
Contributed by KS.
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