Op - Ed

Recovering addicts, ex-cons deserve a second chance

By Mickey Wiles

My name is Mickey Wiles and I am the CFO of Burlington Labs, where I have been given a second chance after being convicted of a felony. As a person who has improved his own life through long-term recovery, I understand the power of second chances. Returning to a position such as CFO was not a path that I ever thought I would travel again.

My story is a common story of individuals who suffer from substance use addictions, become alcoholics and addicts, engage in poor choices which are sometimes criminal in nature, and then enter treatment and recovery discovering that their issues require substantial work in order to change the way they live their lives. I was lucky to have a strong support network in my recovery and reentry to the job market, but many other Vermonters are not as lucky.

Burlington Labs is a toxicology lab that specializes in Substance Use Disorder treatment. The company started in 2006 as a two-person team and we now employ more than 150 people. The company provides compassionate collection services to those in treatment from substance use addictions and provide timely and accurate drug test results to the treatment provider community. We have made it a point to hire individuals that meet our mission. Therefore, it has been only natural to hire individuals who have a history of substance use addictions, are now in recovery and may have a past, including a criminal record.

We do not ask about criminal history on our applications. We do focus on the individual’s background in our interview process. Discussing our mission and how we serve those suffering from addictions allows us to talk about how individuals deserve a second chance based on circumstances and decisions made in the past. This allows the candidate to self-disclose. We generally don’t even have to ask the question about criminal past.

We have hired several “second chance” employees over the course of the last five years. Many of these are in recovery, some are not, many of these have criminal records, and some do not. However, we have found that the second chance employee have success in their job that is equal to that of any other employee. In many cases, the second chance employee is so grateful to be given this opportunity that they turn out to be very dedicated and grateful to the company.

The Vermont Senate is currently considering H.261, known as the Ban the Box bill. This proposal, which received tri-partisan support in the Vermont House last month, eliminates the criminal history question on job applications for most positions in the state. Employers can still conduct background checks and ask about criminal convictions during a job interview. Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, a statewide business group dedicated to a triple-bottom line approach to business, has championed the bill at the State House this year.

This Ban the Box bill provides an opportunity for individuals to get in the door, allowing the employer to learn about a prospective hire rather than pass judgment based on a paper application. The judgment on whether to hire someone should be based more on what they have done after their crime and punishment to ensure they are taking responsibility and are accountable for their actions. In most cases, if a person has pursued the appropriate corrective action, then they will make excellent employees. We urge the Vermont Senate to pass Ban the Box this year.

Mickey Wiles is the chief financial officer at Burlington Labs, a member of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.

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