Hello, my name is Martha Shearer. I stand here today representing the “Ban the Box” movement, which is gaining momentum here in the state of Alabama. Personally, I have a vested interest in advocating for the removal of questions about an individual’s criminal history that forces them to check a box when completing employment applications before giving the applicant a chance to share their story. Here’s my story:
Nearly thirty years ago, I made a mistake and for that mistake, I believe that I am being perpetually punished even though I have paid my debt to society. Regardless of the fact that while incarcerated I took advantage of every opportunity available to me to increase my chances of being a productive citizen once released. I got my GED, I learned landscaping and horticulture, I dedicated my weekends to help build houses with Habitat for Humanity and so much more.
When released, I immediately gained employment with a company that received an incentive for hiring ex-felons. With my earnings, I purchased a house to provide a safe and stable environment for my three sons and I continued to pursue higher education. Today, I have earned an Associate’s degree, a Bachelor’s degree, and two Master’s degrees and have nearly completed requirements for a PhD. I wanted to prove to others and convince myself that I am a valuable asset to the community and should be given the chance to prove my worth. Despite the degrees that are hanging on my wall, I am still finding it hard to find gainful employment because of that box I must check on employment applications. In fact, I was terminated from one job after working there for two years. I checked “the box” but they failed to run the background check until two years after I was hired. I was judged by “that box” and not for who I am today.
Potential employers have told me they do not consider applications that have “the box” checked. They use it as a way of screening out applicants. I stand here today saying I am not that “box” and no one deserved to be perpetually punished. I merely ask potential employers to allow themselves the opportunity to check me out first and stop forcing me, and others, to first check that box.