By Anonymous (a formerly incarcerated individual)
Many people I have met since leaving prison seem to think that, since I’ve “done my time,” it should be easy to move on. But for those with criminal records, especially those whose crimes were violent or considered predatory, many paths are blocked; including educational opportunities, jobs, apartments, and in some cases whole neighborhoods, cities, and even counties are forbidden to us. We’re funneled into low-paying, dead-end jobs and housing in poor neighborhoods run by well-meaning, but shoestring budget nonprofits at best or by outright slumlords at worst.
As individuals, many people seem willing to accept that my time in prison is sufficient punishment. Given that I’ve learned to take accountability for how I have hurt others, they are willing to support me as I work to live a new and productive life that gives back to the community instead of taking from it. Collectively, however, people are motivated primarily by fear. So a hiring manager may be willing to overlook my record but the human resources policy will not. An admissions officer may welcome my desire to better myself, but the admissions policy does not. Even in churches, individuals may accept me because they truly believe in second chances and changed lives, but many church programs and ministries are closed to me.
When you get to elected political representatives, the fear is multiplied a hundredfold. No politician, judge, or prosecutor can afford to be seen as “weak” on crime, or they’ll lose their next election. And encouraging that fear is a path to election for those who promise to do something about it, so the fear feeds on itself. I know the arguments, I understand the fear. Monsters are real. Predators are real. How do I know? I used to be one of them. But the surest way to help someone who has committed an offense prevent themselves from doing so again is to make them feel like a productive, needed, wanted part of a community.
Thankfully, I have been blessed with the opportunity to become a part of some truly exceptional communities, communities that have bravely chosen to accept me based on my actions in the present and not to judge me exclusively on the actions of my past. Not the least of these is the cast and crew of this production, each of whom is amazing in their own right, and who collectively are something rare and magical. It is my hope that for tonight, at least, you come and join us, join our community. Let us be your guide to the Labyrinth. We cannot promise to lead you out of it, for the Labyrinth is all around us, even now. But we can promise that if you choose to fight the Minotaur and escape the Labyrinth once and for all, that you will not do it alone.
The most insidious thing about the Labyrinth is that it isolates you from the stabilizing influence of family, friends, and other supportive communities, while at the same time building a community on the inside that is unable to support a changed life. But humans are social beings, so for many even an unhealthy community seems better than none at all. Is it any wonder that so many return to a place that accepts them rather than live in a world that shuns them?