Fully Free

by Brusha Tolise

Being convicted of a crime is not an easy process to go through. When completing the sentence or punishment that the legal criminal court system has given you for your conviction, you might believe that you have served your time and are free. I would say I felt both until I realized that I am now a Class 1+2 felon and have a criminal record that I must live with. I wasn’t prepared for the next things that were to come in my life. I didn’t realize being served one conviction means you live with a permanent punishment. 

I faced all types of obstacles/barriers that I never thought I would from having a record. The first one was losing my housing and not having any place to live that would accept me, not even a shelter. I then reached out to some government programs to assist me with vouchers such as food, clothing, and money. I wasn’t accepted because of the type of class felon I am. Throughout this whole situation, I never gave up. I was always able to get a job up until my incarceration but due to my record, I am now restricted from working in health care. I am even restricted from furthering my education in healthcare like I was doing prior. I didn’t stop searching and applying for any job that would hire me. At my first job after incarceration, I got paid only 8 dollars an hour and I worked 4 days a week, 6 hours a day, and did everything under the book at this job. 8 dollars wasn’t even minimum wage.  

The next barrier/obstacle that came from having a record came from within myself. Not only did I face many struggles and challenges in society, but I also faced many emotional barriers. My confidence level became very low during that time. I no longer had faith in myself and no longer had faith in society. I felt as if I had no one to turn to. Although I started to lose faith, I knew I was still blessed to have made it to Labyrinth Made Goods. It was a rocky start at first because my confidence level was so low, but they were more than patient throughout my experience in the Strive program. They helped restore my confidence and prepare me for my apprenticeship with LMG. I now have a full-time position with Labyrinth Made Goods as a Sales Assistant. I was able to find and afford housing that didn’t discriminate against my background. Although it is not always the best, I’m blessed to have shelter over my head. I’ve even furthered my education in sales. Since then, I have restored faith in society, and I count everything, big or small, as a blessing. I do want to say the barriers are still there, I have just found ways to overcome them. I want to continue to shine a light on the Labyrinth Made Goods team for making such a positive change in my life and for always being there to support me. 

I was lucky to have found Labyrinth Made Goods. Many aren’t so lucky. The recidivism rate is 44% in the US, which is the highest in the world. Systemic boundaries and socioeconomic challenges are the leading cause of recidivism. Those with a criminal record face the permanent punishment of having limited access to resources that can help them succeed when reentering society. The Fully Free campaign is a campaign to end permanent punishment from the criminal legal court system. Research from the Fully Free campaign found that 3.3 million adults have been convicted of a crime since 1979 and there are 1,189 permanent punishment laws and regulations in Illinois alone that restrict resources from people with a criminal record.  

Today, it is crucial to recognize the importance of second chances and the potential for redemption. Individuals with a criminal record should not have to face an uphill battle when reentering society. Instead, we should focus on rehabilitation and providing opportunities for them to reintegrate successfully. By stigmatizing and creating unnecessary barriers for those who have paid their debt to society, we perpetuate a cycle of exclusion and hinder their chances of becoming productive members of our communities. Everyone deserves the opportunity to rebuild their lives and contribute positively to society, as it not only benefits them but also strengthens the fabric of our collective well-being. By supporting and assisting individuals with a criminal record, we promote a more compassionate and inclusive society, where the potential for growth and transformation can thrive. Let us embrace the power of empathy, understanding, and support, and give these individuals the chance to be #FullyFree.