I’m willing to work for more pay, more benefits, and more opportunity … too bad I’m serving a life sentence.

The stigma of a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction is inescapable. I should know. It’s been 16 years since that fateful day I uttered “no contest” and I’m still paying for it. I’m re-sentenced and re-punished for that crime each time I apply for a job. Apparently no one wants to hire a convicted “woman-beater,” not this one at least. Instead, it’s just more tough love for the naive masses who get off on saying things such as, “You do the crime, you do the time.” Well, these uninformed imbeciles should be happy to know that I’m still doing my time behind these gray prison walls and there seems to be no parole in sight.

When I was a kid, my dad said that a life spent living at the survival level is a life wasted. I didn’t understand him then, but you can damn well be sure I now know what the old man was talking about. While I’m thankful for all that I have, I want more both for myself and my family. That’s the American way, right? Work hard and reap the rewards. Unfortunately, there’s only so long I can keep doing what I’m doing only to barely break even at the end of a pay period. I know I have the skills to acquire more than that; what I don’t have is someone who’s willing to look past this 16-year-old misdemeanor domestic violence conviction to give me a chance to prove that I’m worth the investment.

Ever heard the saying “The truth will set you free”? It’s the biggest hoax perpetrated on mankind. When companies and institutions ask applicants if they’ve ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, I don’t lie about it. Sure, there’s a chance I could get the job if I omitted this little uncomfortable fact, but my problems would start the minute I was hired. They’ll run a background check and they’ll find out I lied about that pesky little conviction and promptly fire me. So now I’d have no job. Fortunately, I’ve never made this mistake. Instead, I answer the question truthfully, crossing my fingers and hoping for the best each time. So far, I can say that honesty is the best policy … for remaining exactly where I am, professionally speaking.

My career choice is another part of the problem. If I had experience in a traditionally male-dominated field, I’d likely have more luck. With a degree in journalism and nearly 20 years as a professional writer, I’m applying for office jobs, which are smack dab in the middle of the “estrogen ghetto.” I’ve had more than one interview in which the woman on the other end of the desk became antagonistic even when there was no reason for her to do so. (One even twisted her face into a grotesque grimace when I mentioned I do occasional blogging for AVfM.) While I’m sure other factors come into play—it’s an employer’s market, I’m overqualified, etc.—I’m convinced that the stigma of my past is just too much for most employers to look past.

As much as I hate to say it, I don’t think there will be a fairytale ending for me. The job market seems to save these Cinderella stories for guys who did prison time for killing someone. Everyone loves to see their smiling and repentant faces when they’re given that proverbial second chance that includes a job that allows them to earn a living. For me, every rejection letter reminds me of the broken promises sold to me by those used car salesmen of the legal system. “You don’t even have to say that you did it. And you won’t have to do any jail time. All things considered, this is best for everyone.” That’s what they told me while adding that a trial would cost $5,000 and there was no guarantee of winning. In the end, I really didn’t have a choice, even though I didn’t do what my ex-wife said I did. That, however, was of little concern to the career-minded police, prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge involved in my case.

So as you can see, a domestic violence conviction is the only misdemeanor crime that carries a life sentence. But don’t worry about me. As prison cells go, mine is rather comfortable. I have all the space I need, I can eat anything, and go anywhere I want. I even get to see my kids as well as enjoy conjugal visits with my lovely wife. To be honest, it’s only when I log on to sites such as CareerBuilder.com that I’m reminded of these invisible bars and how they keep me trapped.

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