When the past won't stay in the past: Criminal records pose an extra challenge to finding jobs in a challenging economy

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

John Frechette, a convicted felon from Lewiston, has struggled to find a job. "I haven't had a real job in four years," he said.

Interviews end quickly when prospective employers discover Clarence Gosselin Jr. served 12 years for manslaughter.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Clarence Gosselin

“It goes about 30 seconds and they say, ‘Well, we can’t hire you,’” he said.

The Mechanic Falls man has been job-hunting since 2010. After prison, he worked under the table as a baker for four years until his restaurant changed management. The new owners refused to keep him on.

Christina Conway supplied alcohol to a minor almost 20 years ago, when she was 21. She’s been repeatedly turned away from summer camp jobs in southern Maine, told she can’t work around kids — what would their parents think? It crushes her.

John Frechette lives in Lewiston with his wife and stepson and has a felony conviction for possession of a firearm by a restricted person. He maintains that the broken .22-caliber was his wife’s, in her car, but he’s never had a chance to explain his side of the story during a job interview.

He doesn’t get in the door, period.

“I haven’t had a real job in four years this October,” Frechette said.

Another man, who was arrested and charged — but not convicted — after a sting targeting public sex in Auburn, says potential employers Google his name and use that against him.

It’s a tough economy. Jobs are tight. Applications are many.

For some with records, or just the implication of wrongdoing, it hasn’t been good.

“If you have two candidates, and one has a blemish on their record, and they’re otherwise equal, my hunch is, why would you even risk picking that candidate?” said University of Maine professor Niclas Erhardt, who teaches human resource management at the business school. "The way a candidate conducts him or herself in an interview is of course important, but a lot of times HR professionals use the past to try to predict how an applicant will behave in the future.”

Hard figures don’t exist for the unemployment rate among those with criminal records, but according to the Department of Labor, it is legal to not hire someone because of a criminal history. That’s not a protected class in Maine.

For those job-seekers there are alternatives, though not all palatable. They can work "off the books" or rely on friends and family for job prospects or support. Turn to welfare. Commit a new crime. Or, increasingly, reach out for help.

From prison to employment

Patti Gray teaches the new Job Search Skills For People With Criminal Backgrounds workshop at the Lewiston CareerCenter. Held the first Friday of every month, more than 50 people have attended since January.

A young pregnant woman, a middle-aged man and a young man with a bold tattoo on his forearm sat in her brightly lit conference room in August.

Gray doesn’t know personal histories and doesn’t prod, but over the hour they come out. Forgery. Breaking and entering. Traffic offenses.

She suggested job-seekers take jewelry out of piercings before interviews. Wear long sleeves. Tell the truth, but don’t over-share. Read up on companies. Believe in themselves.

“Own what you’ve done; it is part of who you are,” Gray said. “Show how you’ve grown and how you’ve improved.”

The young woman told Gray that finding a job was easier for men with records. “My ex has like 20 felonies and he gets employment just like that.”

Gray’s oft-repeated advice: Keep at it.

“You have the same abilities and skills as anyone else,” she said. “Just because you have that hurdle doesn’t mean you can’t apply.”

Kristen Stevens is a job coach for men at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. The four-year-old Work and Community Ready program will expand to include women next year.

“So many of these gentlemen that go through Work Ready don’t look like what they’ve done,” said Stevens, program coordinator. “Our whole mission is to replace a rap sheet with a resume.”

It’s voluntary, with a 100-hour commitment and a waiting list. During the course, men sit for three mock job interviews with volunteers from the Human Resources Association of Southern Maine.

That first session, “they’re all scared out of their minds,” said Linda Albert, the group’s communications outreach chairwoman. By the third, “they are so polished.”

“For me, the biggest perk has been to see, ‘Somebody from the outside thinks I’m OK,’” Albert said.

Forty-six of the 73 men who have finished Work and Community Ready have found jobs after leaving prison. Stevens said they work as day laborers and in construction, landscaping, seafood companies and restaurants.

“You may not get a call back; it’s not always about your criminal record — sometimes it is,” Stevens said. “You have to be tenacious.”

She said sex offenders can have the hardest time finding work after jail: "Unfortunately, they hold the greatest stigma in our country in how society views their crimes. Warehouses, call centers can be sex offender-friendly."

Only about one-third of the 3,000 people on Maine's Sex Offender Registry indicate they have a job, something that must be reported to the state. It's unclear how many of the rest are disabled, retired or working off the books. State Bureau of Identification Director Matt Ruel, who oversees the registry at the Maine State Police, said employment and difficulty finding work is "nothing we've looked at."

In class, Stevens has reminded inmates to talk up the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Federal Bonding Program during interviews. The bonding program is a six-month safety net, free to employers, that offers $5,000 in coverage against theft on the job. The tax credit is up to $4,800 for any new hires in one of 12 categories such as unemployed veterans, former felons and people who lost a job in Hurricane Katrina.

Of the more than 10,000 Work Opportunity Tax Credit applications last year in Maine, 44 were for hiring former felons, according to Department of Labor spokesman Adam Fisher.

“We know that having a job makes a huge difference, as far as keeping people out of jail,” he said.

'A huge mountain to climb'

“Robert” has a job, for now.

He lives in Auburn. He’s in his 50s, spent his career in the hospitality industry and last year was charged with unlawful sexual touching. Charges were dropped over the winter. But when he applies for a job, potential employers find the original story of his arrest online. Robert maintains he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

He collected unemployment for eight months before his most recent job, seasonal work that is slated to end. He’s again facing the possibility of unemployment.

“People aren’t so forgiving,” he said.

He’s looked into getting his arrest record expunged. So, too, has the Rev. Doug Taylor. The Lewiston man was found guilty of assault and robbery more than two decades ago. He paid for his own background check to see what potential employers see. It runs 10 pages.

“They don’t even want you pushing a mop at Lewiston High School,” said Taylor, 42. “I work for a gentleman now who dismisses all of that.”

He bought a home and raised four children with his wife by holding down several $8-an-hour jobs at a time. But they don’t offer insurance or a pension, and he can’t work 60 to 80 hours a week forever.

Expunging his record through a state pardon, “I don’t like to say this as a man of faith, (but) it looks as though it’s an impossibility," Taylor said. "It’s a huge mountain to climb.”

He’s going to try.

Frechette, 41, lost a roofing job while on pretrial probation for the gun felony. He gets a break on rent by shoveling snow and mowing the lawn and accepts under-the-table work through friends. The family receives food stamps. They didn’t when he was working.

He wants back into construction.

“I’m not a people person," Frechette said. "I’m a grunt. I’ll move a mountain rather than sell it to you." When he applied for a flagger job, “not even a call back on that, not even interested.”

Conway lives in Kennebunk. Ten years ago, she spent one summer at a kids’ camp and loved it. The next year, she went back. Halfway through the season, the director pulled her into his office. They’d finally run a background check and spotted the misdemeanor. She couldn’t work there anymore.

“Everybody makes mistakes and sometimes they follow you,” Conway said. “It’s not a reflection of who I am today.”

She isn’t sorry she got caught — it was a good lesson for her 21-year-old self. It does mean no summer camp work, no jobs at nursery schools.

“To this day, it hurts,” Conway said. “You just get to be a big kid (working with the campers). I like being that person. I hate what it’s done to my life.”

Gosselin, 48, said he was “into drugs, heavy” when he shot a man. He worked as a baker under the table for four years after his release from prison in 2002. Jobs have been sporadic since, including two months at a local convenience store in 2010 that ended when that company did a background check.

Since prison, he’s gotten his high school diploma, started attending church and gotten married. At the CareerCenter, Gosselin has gotten help with his resume and interviewing. He receives MaineCare, food stamps and Supplemental Security Income for a traumatic brain injury that goes back to his youth.

“I want to work,” Gosselin said. “When I’m home, I sleep most of the time because there’s nothing else to do.”

He interviewed twice at an Auburn manufacturer this summer. No word yet on whether he’ll get the job.

“Right now, it’s fingers crossed,” Gosselin said. “I see a lot of my friends go back to prison because they don’t have anything out (here.)”


Help finding work

Bates College will host an Employment Opportunities Conference on Oct. 20. Mary LaFontaine of the Lewiston CareerCenter said half of the conference is targeted to job-seekers who believe they have barriers to employment: those with criminal backgrounds, older workers, people with disabilities and refugee and immigrant populations.

The other half is geared toward helping businesses learn how their employment practices might create barriers, as well as some lessons learned, and shared, by local employers.

For job-seekers, there will be workshops on networking, interviewing and job-search skills, as well as time to network with employers at the conference. There will also be a job board with openings posted.

Attendance is capped at 50 job-seekers and 50 employers. The conference is free to job-seekers. Registration is required in advance.

For more information and to register: mary.j.lafontaine@maine.gov or 753-9094.

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Kim Berry's picture

JOHN, NO thanks neccessary brother :)

Listen, the people who shoot their mouth off the loudest,
are usually the ones who DO NOT KNOW HOW TO PUT THEMESELF'S IN OTHERS SHOES, ok? :)

I know that for example, a court appointed attorney, gets little to no pay at all. So, they do not always want to spend much time on a case. Sad to say, but it depends on the person, and their compassion or empathy level. In Maine, there is no EXPUNGE there is only Pardon. As you may already know. So, a person does not get erased, they only get "forgiven" for the crime they were convicted of. And, getting a pardon is almost impossible in this state too! I have been curious about this over the years, and I have researched it a little bit. Apparently less than 20% of people who apply for a pardon, actually get one.

This is very discrouraging, to say the least, to many people affected by 911 security check requirements. Because people may have held down the same job for 15 years or more, and get canned because of the "new back ground check requirement" And, for all the critics out there? Even if you have a college degree, or a license or certificate in a certain field or job, you will STILL NOT GET HIRED with felony record. So, even though you do not live like a crimminal, you will be forced to anyway, and be treated as a crimminal.

Now I am only speaking from my experience with people who have minor crimminal records. I am not talking about persons who, for example : pose a threat to the public safety, including or especially children. These things would include extremely violent crimes or harming children etc.

So, I do not know John, what else can be done.. It is surely nice to see that someone is now paying attention around here! Thank you to the Caree Center! All you can do bud, is just keep your head up high, keep making yourself the best person you can be, and dont give up. No one wants to hear the person's story, it seems. And, they need to start! Open your minds up people.

Open your hearts. Give people the chance, to prove you right? If that's how you see it, go ahead. They may just prove you wrong, & be one of the best workers, most devoated, & most greatful employee you have ever had! :)

** peace and blessings ** to all who have forgiveness, compassion & empathy in their hearts


Kim Berry's picture

OK, this makes me sick .... all the criticisms~

These people want to work, and are trying their best. This is pathetic, the way people are just kicking a horse while he's down! There are plenty of low lifes, who do NOT want to work. Who just want to cash their check to buy booze or drugs,party with their friends all night, while their children are beiing baby sat by pediphiles! OH? this is a shock to the readers here? Open your eyes.

Did you ever think of the fact that people make mistakes, that should not follow you for the rest of your life? Did you ever hear anything that goes on in a court room? Did you know every single person heading into to a hearing where they plead guilty or not guilty, is handed a PLEA DEAL? Whether you are guilty or not, you are being askd to do what is quicker, and easier for the state of Maine!

I know for an absolute fact, that many people have been urged to plead guilty with the threat of jail time over their head! So, they just do it, and get it over with, go home with a fine, probation, jail time suspended.

Believe it or not, there ARE people out there busting their but to provide a life for their children and themselves (with an old record) who made the wrong choice out of fear and ignorrance! Give them a break, let them work. I am saddened by the cruelty.

One final note, read up on list. Read the list of "felony charges" considered by our Federal Governemt, and you will see some pretty stupid, petty stuff in there. Trust me on this, you will be surprised. Maybe you or some one you know has done some foolish things, AND NEVER GOT CAUGHT! Well, now look what a mess we have here.

Ask questions, find out the circumstances before you pass judgment and put people down.

Nathan Schultz's picture

What a shock!!!

Your actions in life have consequences. Making good decisions like going to college or the military make you more employable and breaking the law resulting in a criminal record makes you less employable. Each individual is influenced by their previous experience's if those experiences include taking the life of another person or stealing what someone else has earned your resume might not stand out in a positive light. I love the quote “I want to work, When I’m home, I sleep most of the time because there’s nothing else to do.” Maybe less sleeping and more job hunting or volunteering would be the way to go.

 's picture

Our tax dollars

So, this felon receives MaineCare, food stamps and Supplemental Security Income for a traumatic brain injury that goes back to his youth. The traumatic brain injury is probably from his drug use. I am ashamed to admit that I have a brother who has lived off our tax dollars for years. He occasionally works under the table, but most of the time he stays clean and every once in awhile he goes off which sends him into seizures. I, frankly, am very tired of people living off my tax dollars because of their past and/or present actions.


To Doreen

The fact that you're willing to assume Clarence's injury must have been caused by drug use, makes me think that you might be addicted to feeling superior to people and are willing to make something up in order to get your fix. Do it to someone else because Clarence doesn't deserve it.

 's picture

You are right

I may have presumed too much in this case. However, I do know that our lives are made up of the decisions we make. We choose to either have a good life or a bad life. Life is difficult for most everyone. In my opinion, the easy road is never the best road to take.

RONALD RIML's picture

So what happens if....

Those with criminal records didn't receive some type of support and we know damn well they're not going to get job offers when there are an abundance of applicants with criminal histories???

Crime does pay - and it's certainly a viable alternative when society removes all others.

Be cautious that you get the draconian measures you wish for there, Doreen. If the unemployable no longer receive the support they're now getting from the government, they have a tendency to wrest it from others.

Nathan Schultz's picture

So, your saying we better

So, your saying we better give them stuff or they will just take it? That seems to be a rather cowardly approach. Maybe the government can stop giving them stuff and all the people who work can defend themselves and each other from their "tendency to wrest it from others".

RONALD RIML's picture

Think about it a bit, Nathan.

I see you have absolutely no information about yourself in your profile.

What are your 'life experiences?' What would lead you to say that it is 'cowardly' to give someone something rather than to have them 'take it?'

What has realistically happened in history when one has no expectations of being able to work at a job - nor receive food and shelter to live. What have they done?

Go from there.

Nathan Schultz's picture

The Mob used to do the same

The Mob used to do the same thing. Give us money and we will provide you protection from us. No one is entitled to the money earned from the sweat of another no matter how hard their life is. I also was not intending to imply you as an individual are cowardly, just that to use the logic of if we don't provide them with a job or food and shelter that they will take from those who have it to justify providing every basic human need is playing on fear of not being able to defend one's self from having your property violated. I have made good and bad decisions in my life and have recieved the consequences for both types of decisions and when I make bad decisions I do not expect the rest of society to make sure it is all ok for me.

RONALD RIML's picture

The "Mob" is not a valid example - Nathan

This discussion is concerning people who do want to work - but find it unavailable to them.

So I asked you: "What has realistically happened in history when one has no expectations of being able to work at a job - nor receive food and shelter to live. What have they done?"

So the key is looking back "in history" - what occurs, Nathan?

Roger Moulton's picture

I give you all credit for

I give you all credit for trying to work and doing what you can to make money. However to the man with long hair and the tattoo I say cut your hair and cover the tattoo cuz if you walked into an interview I was giving I wouldn't even consider you. The same way I wouldn't consider a young man with long hair wearing girls jeans and black nail polish. Your appearance doesn't scream "I'm a responsible hard working man". Not saying that this is right it's just the facts of life. And also to you I say you were already a felon which it doesn't say why but was it really worth your wife keeping a broken .22 around? What would she have a broken .22 in her car for anyway? I'm a 28yr old male with quite the mouth and very bad "road rage" and I don't own a gun of any kind. Does your wife hunt birds or chipmunks? probably not. To the woman that furnished alcohol to a minor I agree that this shouldn't hold you back from getting a job and if you do something other than a summer camp I'm sure you can find one. I know you like to work at summer camps as it is easy and fun. My job isn't easy and fun but it's what I need to do to support my family. The guy who was accused of sexual touching should really know better than to apply at a high school. The fact that you apply there alone makes me assume that you may have done what you were accused of. Use your head and apply somewhere that doesn't house minors.

Bobbi Frechette's picture

resopnce of long hair felon!

Roger have you ever made a mistake in life?? John is proud of his native heritage and his hair is a representation of that. Are you saying that you are prejudice person?? are you not willing to hire a native American??? the real Americans....as for Tatoos he does cover them as well as tie his hair back. As for Me oning a gun I had it when I was living in the country with my 2 young boys s a single mother as for it being in the car it was on it way to Reeds gun shop in Auburn to see if it was worth fixing?? it wasnt for road rage and If you have issues with rage maybe you need to start meditating thats what we natives do for rage issues!!! Maybe you should ask for facts before making judgemnets on others!! What give you the right to think that you are a better person just because you never got charged for any of your raod raged screw up???? I am hoping that someday thrage gets you in a situation that someelse will judge you as a bad person!!! I supposed you drive a big ass truck too!

Roger Moulton's picture


Excuses are like the places we empty our stomaches. They stink, everybody has one, and nobody wants to hear them. I think it is hilarious that you use John's Native American heritage as an excuse for his long hair. When is the last time you saw a Native American with curly brown hair? I would absolutely hire a Native American but not your husband who I assume is less than %10 Native American. He shouldn't tie his hair back he should cut it. Hair will grow back after he gets another job. I STILL HAVEN'T HEARD WHY HE WAS UNABLE TO OWN A GUN IN THE FIRST PLACE. You are a disgrace for saying "we natives" as I said before I bet you are less than %10 Native American. When you are able to move to a reservation then you can say "we natives". And to stop you in your tracks no I don't think it's right that all they have left is reservations but neither you, me or our grandfathers grandfathers were around for that and I can't go back and change it. Simply stating you aren't Native American enough to claim that you are a Native. And if you had any intelligence at all you would have gotten rid of the gun the day John was unable to possess one. If Reeds gun shop would have fixed the gun what would be the purpose of keeping it? Even when you lived in the country why did you have it? Again I'm sure you did not hunt squirrels. I've never got charged for my road rage cuz the worst I will do is beep and show someone that I think they are number one. And yes I do drive a big truck because it transports my family safely in storms, brings my trash, returnables and recyclables off of my property and also because my hair is short my tattoos can be covered with a tee shirt and I can afford to drive it. My mother was a single mother of three, we lived in the country and she never owned a gun. If you would focus on making your life better as hard as you focus on making excuses you would see a wonderful change for the better. I am a 28 year old male that lives in the country and I don't have any restrictions for owning a gun yet I have never owned one in my life and have no plans to.

 's picture

It might help if Mr.

It might help if Mr. Frechette cut and washed his hair. Who in their right mind would hire a felon? People need to learn personal responsibility. Your actions will have consequences!

Bobbi Frechette's picture

insult of Mr Frechette

Mr Wright I suppose you have never gotten into a situation that you had no control over....do you know anyone that has lost their home due to the financial economy??? Do you also say they should have lost their home because they cant pay for it?? to make a statement like that with out knowing the details make you a very ignorant person. In Mr Frechettes case there was never a crime committed he is an unfortunate result of just how unequal and bias the justice system is when it comes to domestic abuse. His EX was a drunk and very abusive and also molested thier 2 girls as well. but because the system and DHHS doesnt want to recognize that a woman can do these types of things he was railroaded he is of native american decent and its an honor to have long hair! maybe you should not be so quick to insult others until you look into why they are where they are or look the way they do. He had just gotten out of the shower when the picture was taken just a tid bit for you!I would like to know what make you so above others that you can judge them?
thought your name was Bob not God!

Kendra Sprague's picture

Why not?

The problem with this comment of yours is that you don't know Mr. Frechette and so therefore you have no right suggesting to him what he should or should not do. To your comment "who in their right mind would hire a felon?", well see that's just it. No one would. People may have gotten their felony when they were , let's say 20, and now are trying to get a job as a, let's say 45 year old. However, they are hindered by their felony from a very long time ago, and maybe their felony was never deserving such serious consequences in the first place. Our legal system is very messed up in this way. An employer does not want to hire a felon, simply because he/she is a felon, without even looking at their individual cases. Some people that got a felony are very different now than they were then, although some of them are not. What I am trying to say is, don't judge a book by its cover, without first reading its story. Unfortunately, much of society today has the same frame of mind as you, and that hinders any job opportunities for these people. These people are not just felons, they have to pay the bills, put bread on the table, and live, just like everybody else. So why not give them a second chance?

 's picture

Take the risk

After working for two years with people who have criminal & substance abuse histories, it is clear that the challenges for them to find a job are huge. Having the conversation with a potential employer end as soon as one shares their history can be so disempowering to a person. Our society is not easy to live in, even without these barriers. We expect people the be rehabilitated so they can function without further crimes and substance use problems, but we don't have all the necessary opportunities to assist that. Work is a big part of a person's recovery, and its imperative that we develop opportunities for people to help raise their sense of purpose and belonging in our community. These jobs may be the biggest piece of the puzzle to keep people sober and out of jail. I encourage the community to be willing to give people with a criminal record or a substance abuse history a chance to prove they can and will be amazing employees, dedicated hard workers with gratitude for the chance. Many of these people are connected with resources such as case management, counseling, probation, which helps balance some of the risk of hiring them. Everybody makes mistakes, and substance abuse does mean a person is weak or has bad morals....find someone in recovery from both and you may have just found a long-term asset for your business.
Wow, this turned outlonger than I thought. I should have put it in an editorial. Thanks for reading....and remember the Golden Rule.


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