When the Media and Society Refuse to Give Someone a Second Chance
Date:  02-01-2016

Focusing on one’s past mistakes, rather than accomplishments, is counterproductive and harmful to all
Reentry Central would like to share a letter written by two prominent Connecticut advocates for criminal justice reform in response to an injustice that made the front pages of the Hartford (CT) Courant and the Connecticut Post. The newspaper articles focused on Connecticut State employee Carlos Cosme’s criminal history rather than the many positive achievements he has made since. Read Connecticut Post article Here.

The subject of second chances is a sore one here at Reentry Central and throughout the country. It seems no matter how hard a person works to overcome his or her past mistakes there is always someone who will not let the past remain just that.

In a time where the term "second chance" is bandied about from the President on down, we have to ask ourselves, Is society really willing to give human beings a second chance? Frankly, we are not so sure.

Carlos Cosme is just one of millions of Americans with a criminal history who is glued to past mistakes, seemingly forever. For, example, on June 29, 2015, Reentry published a letter to President Obama from Glenn E. Martin, the internationally known criminal justice reform advocate and Founder and President of JustLeadershipUSA. Martin was invited to a policy conference by the White House, but because he had prior criminal conviction, (which the White House was very aware of), he was not allowed to enter the White House without an escort.

Humiliated by the event, Glenn E. Martin wrote the following in a letter to President Obama:

"Our day culminated with an invitation to join members of your domestic policy staff in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for a discussion about their work on these issues. A day of thoughtful and inspired dialogue, however, quickly turned into one of needless humiliation and stigma for me. As each of my colleagues received green passes granting them immediate access, I received a pink ID bearing the label: "Needs Escort." Its inspiration was quickly and unsurprisingly confirmed: anyone with a criminal conviction requires an escort at all times on the White House grounds. The staggering symbolism of the ordeal was not lost on me, Mr. President. In a country where 65 million people have a criminal record on file, being selectively barred from entering the White House for a discussion about those very same people was as insulting as it was indicative of the broader problem."

Not only are people with criminal histories barred from the White House, but also from employment, housing, education and true freedom.

Reentry Central joins the Bridgeport ReEntry Collaborative in demanding that those who utter the words “second chance” do so with an open heart and mind.

We encourage our readers to share the letter below and work toward making "second chance" more than just a catchphrase.

Are second chances real? Ask the press! Second chances have always been an important American value. We often forgive athletes, politicians, and actors for their indiscretions, but when will the press stop punishing people for being punished? Beyond the effect on recidivism and survival chances, collateral sanctions such as those imposed by the press unfairly continue to punish people who were formerly incarcerated for their crimes long after they have served their sentences. This is what happened to Carlos Cosme provided with a state employment opportunity by the CT DMV and now former DMV Commissioner Andres Ayala. Mr. Cosme’s background made front page news, not for the positive things that he has accomplished since his release, but rather for crimes that he already has paid the price for.

The press chose not to report about Mr. Cosme’s countless hours volunteering in the Bridgeport community through Project Longevity, a gun violence reduction program, or working with troubled youth in an attempt to sway them from committing criminal offenses. Nor was the public made aware how Mr. Cosme obtained his Associates Degree at Housatonic Community College; nor that he had received a Personal Achievement award in 2013 and citations from U.S. Senator Blumenthal and U.S. Representative Himes. Nor was it revealed that Mr. Cosme worked as an aide not only for state Senator Gary A. Winfield (D-New Haven) as well as former state Senator Ayala (D-Bridgeport). Moreover, the press failed to mention that Mr. Cosme is a new home owner, a productive taxpaying citizen, and the proud step-father of a U.S. Marine. Unfortunately, almost every felony conviction carries with it a life sentence. It has become a Scarlet Letter that is indelibly marked on all but a few. It is hard enough that upon being released, people who were formerly incarcerated face a vast increasing maze of mandatory exclusions from valuable social programs and employment opportunities that impede their hopes of success.

As the Bridgeport ReEntry Collaborative, a voluntary association of more than thirty local agencies working together on solutions to the challenges returning citizens face, we applaud Governor Dannel Malloy and the State of Connecticut for their willingness not only to enact legislation to enhance employment opportunities for those people who were formerly incarcerated, but also for the fact that they are actually willing to employ them. We further support Mr. Cosme in his commitment to persevere and serve as a model of redemption and a beacon of hope for those people who were formerly incarcerated who seek a righteous path. The bottom line is that imposing collateral consequences after a criminal conviction has been served is not only vindictive but also counterproductive to building safe and healthy communities.

Respectfully, Scott K. Wilderman and Dan Braccio

The Bridgeport ReEntry Collaborative