Note: In May of 2021, Jean-Pierre Bellemare was found guilty of another crime committed in 2018, and is currently in prison.
It’s not easy to find work nowadays. Even if you’re resolute and packed with degrees and diplomas, an honest citizen with no criminal record can find it difficult.
So imagine what it’s like for an ex-con.
Jean-Pierre Bellemare | File Society
You need to sell yourself. Sometimes, it can be demeaning to try to convince someone to hire you for a job that a badly trained chimpanzee could perform. The whole process can be true agony. Of course, it’s always easier if you know someone who knows someone. Then, you don’t need to grovel door-to-door. Then you can even look down your nose at some poor slob without connections who needs to use every trick in the book to find the same job you got because you used to play hockey with someone’s cousin. If it turns your crank to be that snobbish, why not?
If you’ll accept any kind of job at any salary, than some placement agencies can and will find you a position, pronto. This is no bargain. A hooker at the end of her rope will do anything to scare up the scratch to buy her non-prescription pharmaceuticals, unlike those whose health plan pays for their Prozac, Valium, or cheap Chardonnay.
Some employment agencies will look the other way when faced with a dodgy past or nebulous credentials, because they want the business. In other words, they’ll take advantage of the vulnerable. Those least likely to actually land a job are the perfect stooges for these agencies. The desperate will always pay any price if there is any chance of joining the ranks of the gainfully employed.
Some agencies corner the segment of the employment market requiring temporary fill-ins, broom pushers, dishwashers and the like. These agencies offer their service directly to employers – meaning if you want one of those jobs you won’t find it listed in the help wanted section of any newspaper or website. You have to go through the agency, and pay the piper.
Now why do we taxpayers fund grossly expensive employment centres when they don’t do their job? They’re often staffed by uneducated know-nothings with extensive psychiatric and/or criminal records. These folks end up giving away a significant portion of their salaries to organizations in direct competition with the Red Cross. In my humble opinion, these agencies leech off the most defenceless of job seekers – women, illiterates, etc. – with no obvious moral justification.
We find similar business models operating in the world of government subsidies, where a handful of unscrupulous operators seem to always be first in line for small business start-up grants. Far too often, the same well-connected private-sector types get advance notice on the criteria for such grants. Access is privileged. And guess who wins these subsidies in the end? Now how does that happen? There is no perfect world. No one seems to be working too hard to make the system any cleaner than it is. It’s weird how so many companies that don’t need subsidies end up landing them.
What Price Employment?
Having re-entered civil society three years ago, I am continually shocked by the economic unfairness I see around me each and every day. I have sacrificed my health working at backbreaking jobs because they were the only ones offered by job placement agencies. I had no choice but to take them. Happily, my situation has stabilized somewhat of late. The last two years have been kinder to me.
Recently, I had to re-enter the job market.
This time around, I was much more careful in my employment search efforts. I avoided placement agencies like the bubonic plague. It’s tough enough for John and Jane Doe to find work. Imagine how hard it is for an ex-con. For a large portion of the population, you’ll always be an ex-con no matter what else you accomplish in life. Most former prisoners will never again land a real, fulfilling job.
If people tell you ex-cons amount to nothing in this world because they’re all shiftless, dishonest and lazy – well, not true. As the modern economy becomes ever more hypercompetitive, the definition of what makes for a good employee has narrowed. Employment criteria are stricter than ever. Read the qualifications asked of an applicant, and you’d not be wrong in thinking that such a perfect person doesn’t exist on the planet. In the end, it all eats away at your self-esteem. You ask yourself if your qualifications will ever be sufficient. Can I ever be well educated enough, good enough, competent enough to work anywhere worthwhile? I ask myself if I’ll ever measure up. And it’s not just ex-cons that are going through a similar crisis of conscience these days.
It is fair to ask: in our modern age, can anyone ever expect to be fulfilled in their working lives?
Jean-Pierre Bellemare, an ex-con, has received two major Quebec journalism awards for his magazine writing in Reflet de société. He lives in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.