When ProJo ran my opinion piece, “Why Cianci’s conviction matters,” I knew what to expect. Someone would probably bring up my past in an effort to shoot the messenger. I figured it would be a Cianci supporter, or even a staffer, as any political campaign will typically have a comprehensive media strategy. Perhaps it would be someone troubled by my community involvement. The ironic part is it came from a left-leaning civil rights attorney who is actually reinforcing my message.
Oftentimes, one’s criminal history and the job they seek have little relation. Someone who sold drugs as a teenager may be a great chef, mechanic, or accountant. As a society, we should embrace those skills rather than send someone back into exile. And nothing is gained by continually referring to them as a “drug dealer” or “ex-con.” Someone who was responsible for a financial scandal or someone who molested children, however, will naturally give us pause when hiring them around money or kids. It’s really that simple. This is the nuance advocates must use to counter the alarmists who would prefer to keep barriers in place.
The discussion around Buddy Cianci as a “twice convicted felon” has gone without nuance, and totally conflated issues regarding people like us who may need a second or third chance. My ProJo piece was a brief attempt to provide some clarity, and to put Cianci’s job application in context of thousands in Providence who have convictions. I actually think he will be elected anyway, so its not an election I’m trying to influence but an issue I seek to discuss more intelligently than simple bashing and name-calling.
A Letter to the Editor followed my tepid piece on Buddy’s conviction in office (and I did not even get into his other alleged and admitted abuses of power). In response, the ProJo altered my bio to include my murder conviction, as this constitutes “brief biographical data that might color a writer’s views.” Color it how, one may ask? My bio had already included my work in supporting people like Cianci, and myself, having the right to work.
Naturally there will be many who feel that my conviction history and time in prison is relevant to my position. They may wonder what makes me a “criminal justice expert” beyond my years as an advocate, organizer, and my law degree. They might ask, as someone who fights so hard for the struggles of those of us with convictions, such as Buddy and myself, why I would not simply advocate for Buddy as “one of us.” But others might find my history as relevant because they wish to muddy the message.
Clearly those seeking to sully a writer’s name are trying to undermine the content of the writing. If I am a poor writer, don’t read it. If my facts are wrong, seek a correction. If my analysis is wrong, debate it. But any effort that basically condemns my right to write, and my right to share, is not far from saying Buddy Cianci has no right to work. As a limited public figure, I am open to criticisms. If I worked for an organization, obviously it should be identified so our agenda can be a factor.
Buddy has been highly paid for his opinions on the radio, and I think that has been a perfect job for him since his release from prison. He has added to the public discourse and clearly has a point of view to enrich many political discussions. I, on the other hand, have not been paid for my opinions at all, nor for the learning that fuels the analysis. Not by the ProJo, RI Future, or any of the other spaces through which I have shared.
If my conviction for interpersonal violence prohibits me from sharing an opinion from within the confines of my own home, how is that a Cianci supporter can justify a conviction for malfeasance in office not disqualify a man from working in that same office?