By Rev. Darick Biondi
“He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” – Jesus (John 8:7)
These words are some of the most familiar words in scripture, and yet as I sat there at the Employers’ Breakfast for Second Chances, I couldn’t help but think about how we are failing to live into Christ’s words. That morning, as I sipped my coffee, I was jarred awake not by the caffeine, but by the staggering number of people who have committed felonies and are now permanently locked out of jobs that provide a living wage. 150,000 people in West Virginia have committed felonies, and according to the various presentations at this Second Chances breakfast, our very laws keep them from any opportunity to actually break free from the cycles of poverty that they find themselves in (and these are the very cycles that help contribute to the crimes they committed).
While I found myself absolutely shocked that over 8% of West Virginia’s population and over 15% of our possible workforce was now almost entirely unemployable, Delegate Mike Pushkin stood up and shared his hope for a Second Chance Employment Act. Because so many jobs that provide living wages disqualify ex-felons (and in some cases people who have committed certain misdemeanors), we are setting up barriers that keep ex-convicts from entering back into society. Through the Second Chance Employment Act, those with non-violent felonies could work towards having their record cleared. For those that broke the law to feed an addiction and are now clean, this law allows them to find the employment they so desperately need to support a family and continue to live a sober life of recovery.
This law almost passed last year, as it was adopted unanimously in the WV State Senate; however, it was blocked in the House of Delegates. This hit close to home as I saw a church member post how frustrated he was that this was blocked. This member never posts anything regarding politics, but as a person who committed a felony and served his debt to society, this bill genuinely matters to him and to his family. He is a good Christian man who is genuinely penitent and just wants to make this world a better place, but a few mistakes and the harshness of the current laws are keeping him from the opportunities he needs to help his family, church, and community more.
This issue of second chances is profoundly Christian. Jesus offered love and salvation to individuals who were admittedly guilty of solicitation (prostitution), embezzling (how tax collectors did their job), and countless others who were worth a second chance (and a third, fourth, fifth, etc.). As the Church, our line of work is the transformation of lives, and this Second Chance Employment Act is a way that we can help transform lives that need it so very much right now.
Each and every one of us has something in our past that we are guilty of, and it is only by the blood of the Lamb that our sins are washed clean. We must offer second chances to every sinner, because God offered us that very same second chance.
I would urge that you consider calling your State Senator and State Delegate and urge them to support this Second Chance Employment Act, as it will provide the needed opportunities for real changes. No longer will someone have to sell drugs or do other illicit activities to meet their financial needs because they now have the chance at employment they need. By putting down our own stones, we can follow Christ’s teaching, acknowledge our own sin, and provide a way forward for so many that need that second chance. Hopefully with their second chance, they truly can step out of the situation they find themselves in, seek a new life, and “go and sin no more” (John 8:11b).
To reach out to your State Senator or State Delegate follow this link, it will give you contact information so that you may speak up on behalf of our fellow West Virginians who have served their time and deserve a Second Chance. www.legis.state.wv.us/Joint/legisinfo.cfm
The West Virginia Council of Churches has prepared a Public Policy Issue Priorities guide. You may down load a copy here. www.wvcc.org/public-policy.html