It was an out of body experience, I was in an entirely detached place of reality. After a night of adding alcohol and pot to my Paxil-filled bloodstream, I started a fire in a building that was closed for renovations.

Most folks at my age have accomplished certain things – house, kids, solid career. I have a felony record and restitution: essentially, a mortgage without a home.

I have to check the box.

Yet a criminal conviction isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, and I certainly don’t think people should go out of their way to acquire one. But there’s a useful winnowing that occurs, like I witnessed my own funeral: friends left me, my career seemed to be dead, I thought life was over.

Life wasn’t over. I gained resilience – a strong quality to have in any situation: the ability to press on in spite of a challenge. There’s value to that, despite how it’s acquired.

That value needs time to be heard out: listened to – not just discounted. I don’t like to feel like I have to hide it. I want people to see me in person, not online or on a background report.

Relate to me; talk to me; see me as human.

I went back to college and got a BA, then a Masters, and then a Doctoral degree. Today, I’m an assistant professor.

These successes were possible through the fortune of having a loving family, as well as mentors who were willing to foster my growth as a person and as a professional. In other words: I’ve had people look past my conviction and see my promise within.