Employment: The presence of a criminal record can more than halve the chances that a job applicant will receive a call back for a job interview.

Housing: Finding housing (public or private) is extremely difficult with a criminal record. This results in increased homelessness and split families – where the person with a record (a parent, child, or other family member) is forced to find shelter elsewhere.

Education: Despite no established link between criminal records and campus safety, records make admission into higher education – and financial assistance to support it – very difficult.

Working in licensed places and positions: State law prohibits people with certain records from working in fields or facilities with vulnerable people. Here, hundreds of crimes disqualify job applicants from seven years to life for records ranging from conviction to mere arrest.

Immigration: Criminal records can have a profound and permanent effect on one’s immigration status, results ranging from the inability to naturalize (and petition family members to live in the US) to deportation.

Voting: 70,000 Minnesotans can’t vote due to a felony conviction. This disproportionately impacts African Americans (10% disenfranchised) and Native Americans (6.5%). Meanwhile, research has shown that civic engagement can reduce recidivism.

Travel: Criminal records can prevent people from traveling outside of the United States, from crossing the Canadian border to obtaining a travel visa.

Government assistance: Criminal records, drug convictions in particular, can cause blockades to receiving government assistance for individuals and their families.



We all do our best to cope with what we’ve got. Given the skills and resources I had in that phase in my life, this is what I chose to do.

My story goes like this: I was raised in a working class neighborhood, my dad was a salesman and my mom was a secretary. It all seemed normal enough, but we had trauma in the home: my brother had diabetes – and this before they knew how to manage it.

Almost all of my memories of my brother are him throwing up or getting sick or wasting away in the hospital. So, so many days in the hospital. And he was mad because he was dying and everyone knew he was dying and none of us could do anything about it.

We all found ways to cope – but not together, not as a family unit. My mom and dad got divorced, my sister joined a cult, and I found drugs.

Anything was better than watching my family disintegrate. I couldn’t hold us together, I couldn’t keep my brother alive, but I could control my high. I could laugh and forget about what was happening at home; this was a new and welcome reality.

College came, and with it LSD. I was pretty much consistently high. Being an entrepreneurial guy, I started selling it.

Oh, the luxuries to forget. I did such stupid, stupid things.

I sold out of my dorm room: a constant stream of customers, and the RA never asked questions. I’d be blitzed both at work and in class. I would drive around drunk and high with grocery bags of pot in the car. I’d steal things from the liquor store – and I didn’t even have to: it was just the challenge of it. We’d trip on acid and set open fires in the middle of city parks (fueled with branches broken from nearby trees) at two in the morning. One night, we broke into a home near campus. Actually, I think the door was unlocked. It was an older lady’s home—you could tell. Anyway, we let ourselves in and rearranged all of her furniture. I have no idea why. She was probably home, hiding upstairs, and just frightened to death. I think about that one a lot. I was completely unaware of my impact on other people at the time.

Even when I was caught, nothing happened. Multiple times I was pulled over for driving drunk. I had a prominent business man in the family, so police would just dump out the beer and say, Go home. We don’t want to see you again tonight. I’d stop for the night, but be right back out again the next.

I wasn’t a hardened criminal – but I certainly did engage in a lot of crime. I take full responsibility for it.

There’s a point of diminishing return with these stories, right? I’ve got one more for you.

My girlfriend and I were driving along and on a spur of the moment we decided to go to Canada. I had a roach clip hanging from the visor and pot in the trunk, divided into baggies and ready to sell.

Customs took one look at the clip and asked me to step out. After finding the bags of pot, he looked me over: I was a white kid and didn’t look like ‘trouble.’ It was a nice car, I had a respectable looking girlfriend. He said if I paid a fine, I could go on my way. I didn’t have any money on me – so he told me to go down to a nearby corner store to see if they could help.

I explained the situation to the shop owner, and he asked if I had anything he could hold as collateral.

I showed him this chain. This very chain. It’s gold, it’s from Italy, and my mother had it blessed by the Pope.

He loaned me $500, I handed it over to the patrol, and he gave me my car back. You want to know the worst part? I lit up as I was pulling away.

I then called my mom and she sent me the money to get the necklace back.

My mom’s generation was a little less intrusive than the one now. I think she felt she had raised me with the right values and that I would come around. She probably also prayed for me.

Now I’m not a religious person, but I am spiritual—and I’d like to think there was a reason I went through that. I believe I’m supposed to do more with my life, to give more back.

Being able to tell this story is important: it’s helped me understand – if you’re a minority in this city, people have a radar out for you. No one had a radar out for me. If I would have been black, if I had been caught, I don’t think I’d be here today. Now I work with kids living with trauma, and I work everyday to make life better for them.

People talk about mission. I live my mission. My past has made me who I am.

But it’s not just work for me: those experiences prepared me for life. When my daughter turned six, she began having seizures. Twenty, thirty a day. A couple of years after that, she developed diabetes—the same disease that killed my brother.

Here I was, back to where I had been before: someone I love, burdened with something I can’t fix. But it was a thousand times worse: when it’s your child, that feeling of helplessness cannot be explained. I would catch myself in the shower preparing a eulogy for her.

But I had seen what living with a sick child did to my parents and to me—and I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I have so many more coping skills now than I or my parents once had. My wife and I are determined and driven and unwavering partners in this, and my daughter is a beautiful, hopeful, grounded soul. At one point she looked at me and said, This isn’t really end of the world, is it?

That girl has taught me more in life than anyone else—and if I hadn’t gone through my own experiences, I don’t think I would have been able to hear it.