The American system of justice has at least two basic tenets: a person is innocent until proven guilty, and if found guilty, the punishment should fit the crime. But far too often, even after a person has served time and earned release from prison, the punishment can go on and on.
Recently, the Michigan legislature recognized that people with a prison record are less likely to return to jail if they can get work and reintegrate with society. Eric Givihan, 42, knows only too well the burden an ex-con carries when looking for work. “It’s not just the job,” he says. “Most apartments or housing won’t let you rent. That was hard on my daughter.”
New Michigan law creates a process to grant a “certificate of employability” to some one who leaves prison with a good record of behavior and completion of training or course work. Legislators hope the new law will encourage businesses to give a second chance to those truly reformed by their sentences, a move that could reduce recidivism and save tax dollars.
Givihan was driving when he was arrested in 2000. Police found a pound of marijuana in his car along with an unregistered gun. Four years later, he emerged from Marquette Branch Prison with actual letters of recommendation written by the correction officers there. Unfortunately, that was 11 years before the state’s new legislation. The letters meant nothing in the face of companies with policies that simply do not permit hiring of anyone with a prison record.
A big man, Givihan ended up cage-fighting to support his daughter, who eventually begged him to quit the ring.
Givihan started his own security business a year ago and sells scrap metal to tide him over between jobs. His daughter is now poised to graduate from high school.
“I have to continue to try to make it,” he says. “We took “can’t” out of our vocabulary.”
Now married with a blended family of seven children, Givihan says when times are tough, his family is the only thing that keeps him from making a wrong choice, adding, “They keep me grounded.”
Editors Note: Ex-Felon was changed to Ex-Con in the story. Our previous phrasing gave the impression that all ex-cons were also felons. That is not true. We apologize for any misunderstanding.