Drugs can be Hell. Being Labelled a 'Felon' is a Killer.

It took me years to understand, but my history of drug addiction was a way to avoid dealing with issues I had. While I was in prison for a drug-related crime, my mother died. Then, my son was killed. I was devastated. No mother should ever have to go through what I went through. At that point, I decided I would do whatever it takes to overcome my addiction. I made a clean start. I moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone and focused on staying sober and finding work.

When I applied to for a job as a medical transport driver, I faced a question asking if I had a felony on my record. I have a felony drug possession conviction, so I checked “yes.” I was always honest with my manager and the company about my past.

For four and a half years, I worked as a driver transporting dialysis patients, sometimes starting at 5:45AM. I tried my best to be a model employee. I never missed work, never got disciplined, and even received employee of the month. Patients and nurses all knew me by name and complimented me on how hard I worked. When my company lost a big contract and other workers left for another company, I stayed out of loyalty.

One day, everything changed. I showed up to work and the general manager said I failed my background check. I told him that a lawyer was helping me clear the drug possession felony from my record. The general manager told me if that charge was cleared, I could re-apply and try to get my job back. But for the time being, I was out of a job because of the mistakes and pain of my past. 

I was overwhelmed with hurt. My job wasn’t just something I did for ten hours a day-- it was my whole life.  I never really made friends after I moved from Monterey to the San Francisco Bay Area. I focused on work. It was a promise I made to myself – proof that I could make it. And I lost it. Not because of anything I did on the job, but because of a disease I had years ago and the label of “felon” put on me by the court.

People should not be locked up for simple drug possession – it does nothing to address the disease of addiction. Crowded jails are a huge waste of taxpayers money that we should be spending in our communities on schools, programs for kids, parks, and yes, drug treatment. And we should not have to wear a “felony” label for the rest of our lives – a label that makes it hard to find work, to succeed, and to stay off drugs.

Drugs can be hell, but that label is a killer.

That’s why I support S.B. 1506 by Senator Mark Leno. This bill would make simple drug possession a misdemeanor rather than a felony. It would be a big step forward for our state. It would bring some sanity back to our criminal justice system, save $1 billion in just five years, and give people like me a chance to restart our lives.

But it can’t happen without your help. The bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee. Now it faces a vote of the full senate. Will you send a message to your representatives urging them to support our campaign?

Emily J. is a member of Families for Books Not Bars whose name has been changed to protect her privacy.