Facing a stigma, many ex-convicts in the U.S. struggle to find work
Nearly 80 million Americans, or about one-third of the total U.S. adult population, are living with some kind of criminal record.
For more than 19 million Americans, that conviction has led to a felony on their permanent record. And in states like Virginia, that is a stain some are forced to live with for the rest of their lives.
"Are we giving out the potential for someone to reform their life and change, or are we giving them consequences that will prevent them from ever having a life that they never imagined having?" Melod Teymorian, 35, told CBS News.
Teymorian was convicted of a felony in 2016 for a non-violent drug offense: possession of a controlled substance. He believes the punishment nowhere near fit the crime. Although he has been sober ever since, he said he has been denied numerous employment opportunities and housing.
"As if you didn't feel bad enough, and you haven't been trying to destroy your life on your own, let's help you," Teymorian said.
With a sincere and engaging style, Teymorian said he believed that, after each interview, the job was his.
"They liked who I was and they thought I was a good fit for the job," Teymorian said. "And despite that, because of this possession, as a result of a drug charge, they couldn't move forward."
As luck would have it, Teymorian met David Engwall, executive director for Recovery Unplugged, a rehabilitation center in Northern Virginia. What every employer before him saw as something negative they could not look past, Engwall looked at as a bonus.
"You see, with a person like Melod, you know, if given the opportunity, and I know there's plenty of people that are like Melod out there, what they will produce will be incredible. They just need to have the opportunity," Engwall proclaimed.
Engwall has numerous employees with felonies on their records, and believes the term "felon" has been overly stigmatized. When asked what he would say to people who believe felons deserve to be punished their entire lives, his response was simple.
"I'd say life is incredibly complex," Engwall said. "It's very hard to know the circumstances that lead a person…to how these felonies happen."
"We're allowing this enormous group of people to just sort of waste away and continue to persist in these same issues of employment and housing and access," Engwall added.
In 2025, Virginia is slated to re-examine its felony law, and look at whether convicted felons will be allowed to expunge that stain from their records. But as it stands today, they cannot be erased.
"I'm resilient," Melod said. "And I believe that. And that same resiliency that I had to face before I had the job helped when I had the opportunity. I will solve the problem."