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They're Out Of Jail, But Will They Ever Finish Serving Their Time?

Activists, officials, and people with past convictions gather on the City Hall steps to launch their #TimeDone campaign. (Photo by Caleigh Wells/LAist)
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Jay Jordan was 19 when he was convicted of robbery and served time in prison. But 14 years later, he said he's still being punished.

He and his new wife were unable to adopt a child because of his felony conviction. And that's not all:

"I can't sell real estate, I can't sell insurance, I can't be a bingo caller, I can't be a dog walker, I can't volunteer at my kid's school, I can't coach my son's Little League team, I can't join PTA, I can't ride on the bus with him to a field trip, and the list goes on and on and on, and these are lifetime bans," he said.

Jordan was one of several people with past felony convictions who, along with their supporters, came together Friday to launch a campaign raising public awareness of the struggle to move on after jail time.

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Called #TimeDone, the effort addresses the restrictions that millions of people nationwide with criminal records face once they are released, from finding jobs to adopting children.

Jordan, director of the Second Chances project for the nonprofit Californians for Safety and Justice, said he's also frustrated with a system that keeps prisoners, once released, from taking jobs using the skills they learned while incarcerated.

"People risk their lives to be firefighters, are trained just like firefighters on the streets, getting paid pennies on the dollar, but when they get out, they can't become a firefighter," he said.

Ninety percent of jobs aren't open to people with a felony conviction on their records, according to the organizers of the #TimeDone campaign.

"The same applies to those who learn skills to be emergency medical technicians and even barbers," Jordan said. "What crime do you have to commit to be banned from being a barber? I could never be a barber."

Ingrid Archie shares that frustration. Her life after serving time in prison for a felony conviction started out alright -- she worked in retail. But the company that employed her changed its policy and no longer had jobs for people with felony records. She was laid off, and she spent seven years looking for employment.

"They want people to change when they come from institutions, but that doesn't happen because of the barriers we face," she said.

Archie tried going back to school but couldn't qualify for a loan. She couldn't qualify for an apartment because of her conviction either. And the housing was required to get her kids out of the foster care system.

She has a job now and calls herself lucky.

"I shouldn't be the lucky one. Everyone in California and nationwide should have that same story and not have to face those barriers," she said.

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Los Angeles City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson said the issues facing those with convictions who have done their time is not just unfair, it doesn't make economic sense.

"Right now in California, we have more open jobs than we have unemployed people. So this idea that we can just sacrifice some people permanently until they die is ridiculous for both them and the overall economy," he said.

The #TimeDone advocates say the loss in national GDP from workers with past convictions who aren't working amounts to $87 billion.

Jordan described some of the restrictions imposed on those with criminal records as deeply ingrained in the system.

"The Fair Reporting Credit Act says that after seven years, convictions can't be reported for low-end jobs," he said. But when it comes to the background checks for "career-level" jobs, the conviction never goes away.

"Even if Jerry Brown pardons me right now, that conviction will still show up the rest of my life. And that's a problem," Jordan said.

Jordan and Archie both said the first step to fixing the problem is getting voters and legislators to realize it exists. The #TimeDone's campaign's first event to raise public awareness is a sold-out concert at the Greek Theater this Sunday.

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