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Hostage of his past. Ex-convict tells of near two-decade struggle to find job in unforgiving society

Published:Thursday | November 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM
The Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in Kingston.
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Corey Robinson, Staff Reporter

Twenty-eight years wasted, a mounting pile of rejected job applications and the hefty cost of bus fares to and from fruitless interviews have left 52-year-old Travis Davis hopeless.

The helpless cries of his children for financial support serve only to make his reality even more unbearable. If only he could relive his life and make better choices.

For starters, he would stay far away from criminality and peer pressure, and he would spend more 'quality time' with his two children and relatives. The jailhouse would not be a feature of his past.

Almost two decades after serving eight years at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Facility for illegal possession of a firearm and robbery with aggravation, Davis says he still feels incarcerated by the 'system', as he is yet to secure any meaningful employment, due to his prison record.

The ex-convict said since his release, he has

mailed dozens of application letters and has racked up thousands of dollars in transportation costs, in his hunt for a job. But every employer who has interviewed him has turned him down because of his conviction. And those who didn't turn him down are those who didn't require a copy of his police record or, those to whom he lied about his past.

The saddest part of his ordeal, said Davis, is that it doesn't matter to employers that he was only 25 when he was imprisoned. Neither does it matter, he said, that he has never been in any further altercations with the law.

"It doesn't matter; once you have a prison record, most places won't even look at you," he told The Gleaner in a recent interview. "I can't drive a PPV (public passenger vehicle), so I can't get a driving job. If I am to work with a dog company, a security company, to clean the dog kennel, or to do anything else, I need a police record," stressed Davis, questioning the relevance of being taught masonry while incarcerated.

"You send a young youth to prison and you say that you are going to rehabilitate him, teach him a skill. Dem teach me masonry when I was there. But what's the point when you learn the trade, come a road, and still can't find anybody to employ you because you have a record?" he asked.

"So what are you leaving a man like me to do now? I think people like me should be given a chance, especially when they only have one conviction and are not in any other entanglement with the law," he said, arguing that such a move would bolster the chances of fully rehabilitating former convicts.

As Jamaica's laws now stand, Davis, having spent more than three years in prison, will never be able to have his criminal records expunged, explained Acting Public Defender Matondo Mukulu.

Only persons with sentences up to three years are provided that privilege under the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offender) Act 1988. However, such persons will have to wait another 10 years (his rehabilitation period) before his prison records are wiped clean.

Once the offender completes his rehabilitation period without another conviction and has been granted an expungement by the Criminal Records Rehabilitation of Offenders Board, his sentence is considered spent, meaning he is treated as if he never committed the crime. This process starts, however, when the offender submits a written application to the Board. If the request is rejected, then the individual will have to wait two more years before he can reapply for expungement of his records.

At least seven cases similar to Davis' have come to Mukulu's attention since he took office in April.

According to Mukulu, the problem is widespread, and though he welcomes recent amendments to the Criminal Records Act, his office believes it is not achieving the right balance between resettlement and protection.

The updated Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offender) (Amendment) Act 2014 now awaits the governor general's nod of approval before it comes into play. The reformed act has been extended to cover custodial sentences of up to five years and to include rehabilitation periods for young offenders under 18 years old.

Mukulu said the amendments were well needed, as the likelihood of re-offending reduces as the years go by, with the first two years upon release being the high-risk years.

"This is important in considering the balance that we accept is required."

Now, Davis waits patiently for the governor general to sign off on the new legislation. He says maybe, after that, he will be able to get on with his life.

"I am watching to see," Davis said. "But if it's one thing you as a youth need fi know, is never to get caught up in crime, because I could have never known that this thing would plague me all of my life," he said.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com