The Rules of the Game
What do they want him to do? Yes, he made a mistake, in fact a big one. He once did something terrible, hurting a lot of people in the process, including family. But that was ten years ago. Since then he has kept his nose clean; not so much as a parking ticket. He is not on community based supervision and has had no police contact. He has more than paid his debt to society. Or so he assumed.
The best way to prevent crime is by gainful employment. The only way to support a family is to bring home a paycheck. But no one will hire him.
Whenever he applies for a job the dreaded have you ever been arrested, have you ever been charged with a crime, have you ever been convicted stymies him. If he responds truthfully, game over. He never hears from the prospective employer. His application is instead placed in the circular filing cabinet never to be seen.
The few times he has landed an interview, he struggles to explain his worst moment, the time he wishes only to forget. The world however has other ideas. So he remains unemployed and unemployable.
Frustrated by yet another day of disappointment he arrives at his apartment. A small yard and three concrete steps separate the street from his front door. He dreads telling his wife that he still hasnt found a job. And it hurts to see his kids do without.
F@#k it he tells himself. Im tired of this s#!t. Im going to get mine even if I have to go back to pimping and pushing. If no one will give me a job, then the streets will pay my bills.
From his right pants pocket, he produces a key which he inserts into the door. With a slight twist he opens the door to the sights and sounds of family, his wife telling the kids to do their homework, their usual but we want to watch cartoons reply and his four-month old son Cabot crying for his evening feed.
It is then that his vision clears and expands. It is then that he sees the bigger picture; what is really at stake. In this his moment of reflection he fully appreciates the rules of the game.
He is catching hell, but not because he deserves it. It has nothing to do with him. Rather, failure is baked into the cake.
By reducing his options; by burying him under a steaming pile of desperation, the desired result is that he snap and does something stupid. This enables the system to achieve the bottom line, i.e., sending his ass back to prison. If he harms his own in the process, so much the better.
This is why he has yet to find a job. This is why his past is always an issue. This is the dirty rule of the game. The stigma, the rejection and bitterness he feels is all part of the plan. Hell, even without a criminal record, the goal is to induce him and others like him to self destruct.
So what then is the answer? How does he win a contest whose rules are rigged? Complaining doesn’t help. And giving in to his frustrations is the worst thing he can do. More than checking out, it reinforces the narrative that he belongs behind bars.
Perhaps the key is family, maybe the solution is love? Or perchance its both, i.e., not only love but the love of family?
This does not mean that home is perfect. It isnt. His children act like children and the misses can be mean. Lord can she be mean. This on top of everything else hes going through.
However, he owes them. They follow the path that he charts. If he fails they all fail. If he goes back to prison then so will his children. So while his frustration is understandable, he is not permitted to give up.
It wont be easy. But being a man is not now, never has been, nor never will be easy. Nor is love, especially when one is cut so deeply. Still, only love provides comfort. Only love speaks to the soul.
More, God is with him. He was there in prison during the beat downs and threats of coerced affection. He was there when he was released with no money in his pocket and nowhere to go. And the divine is with him right here, right now.
As he enters his home, to the hopeful but soon to be disappointment of his family, he understands that his travails have forged a better man. He is stronger, wiser and more connected to what really matters. He further appreciates that what is happening to him is not about him. It is instead about those on this side of the door.
The rules of the game therefore demand that he be at his best, regardless the circumstances. His job is to learn from his mistakes; to find the gift wrapped in adversity. As long as he has the courage to try and the strength to endure, he at least stands a fighting chance. In this life, that’s about the most we can expect.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum