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Characteristics of Successful Ex-Felons: A Microanalysis
By Tracy Andrus, Ph.D.
Published: 09/03/2012

Moving-day The stigma associated with being an ex-felon in America is unlike anything a person can comprehend unless they walk in the shoes of ex-felons. People get ill everyday but they somehow recover and are able to seek opportunity and they are made whole. Ex-felons on the other hand suffer for a lifetime for decisions that they made in the spur of the moment. Some people understand the dynamics associated with persons who struggle daily to regain their respect and dignity in their communities because they were previously convicted of a felony. Then there are those who believe that once a person has been convicted of a felony they should be treated as felons and denied opportunities for the rest of their lives. We have programs in every state that offers assistance to ex-felons being released from prison, yet, every time ex-felons complete applications for employment, they are constantly reminded that some things never change.

In America ex-felons carry the stigma of being convicted for life. A conviction is like the metaphorical scarlet letter. When people see you they see your conviction because many folks in America will never let you forget that you committed a crime.

Today we are beginning to witness a paradigm shift in how ex-felons are treated. Unfortunately it is not because of the reasons that we would think. Ex-felons are treated different now because of the economy. Many states, counties and cities are receiving fewer funds for housing prisoners and have released prisoners who in times past they deemed posed threats to society. Decisions such as these makes rational people think about whether these people actually ever posed a threat to society in the first place.

According to the research, there are approximately 2.8 million ex-felons currently locked up in jails and prisons in the U.S. African American make up approximately 47% of the inmate population in the U.S. yet they account for only 12.7 % of the population in the U. S. African Americans are disproportionately represented in every state in the U.S. This means that their percentage in the prison population is greater than their percentage in the state’s general population. Sixty (60%) of the one million people who are released from prison return to prison within 3 years many of them much quicker!

Today Ex-felons are visible in every facet of life. America and Americans are becoming more tolerant of ex-felons in sports, media, education, military and areas in which felons benefit organizations but corporate America and political entities continue to maintain a strict stance against ex-felons. However, there are states such as Louisiana who allow ex-felons to run for public office after being released from probation or parole for fifteen years.

Ex-felons have a much lower rate of recidivating when they are released to stable living environment and caring families. Without these two safety nets most ex-felons are DOA-Doomed on Arrival. Ex-felons who are released from prison and acquire gainful employment, have the support of their love ones, and are connected to a higher power are much more likely to stay out of prison longer and in many cases never return.

No ex-felon should be punished for life. Once ex-felons are released from prison they should be treated like any other citizen. Corporations who do not hire ex-felons based on their criminal records only, in my opinion should not be supported by the ex-felons or their families. In some recent research in which I surveyed 100 of the largest corporations in Texas, many of the HR Departments responded to the questions of Do your corporation hire ex-felons by saying that each decision is made on a case by case basis. That was a common response from employers. In my book “Why Are So Many Black Folks In Jail”, I constantly remind readers that if corporations refuse to hire qualified ex-felons solely based on the fact that they committed a crime in their past not taking into account that they have paid their debt to society, then “if they don’t hire we don’t buy”. The best way to get people’s attention is to affect their wallets and pocketbooks! Ex-felons have much more power than they think, if they harness and organize their power!

One of the strongest predictors of ex-felon success on the streets lies with their religious beliefs while in the penitentiary. We know that many people believe that felons have nothing else to turn to when they are in jail so that try God. Many folks refer to this as jailhouse religion. In a survey of characteristics of successful ex-felons, 78% reported that they attended church and religious services on a weekly basis while in prison. Sixty-seven percent (67%) were serving a first or second sentence in a penal institution, (62%) were serving time for drug and property offenses. Many of these felons had previous charges but had come to the conclusion that they did not want to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Most ex-felons say that their greatest desire upon release is to be given a fair chance to succeed in America. When businesses close their doors to ex-felons and private and public entities refuse to allow ex-felons a chance to work, what other recourse do they have other than selling dope, robbing folks, carjacking, burglary etc.? If we are going to hold ex-felons accountable for pulling themselves up by their own boot straps, we have to provide them with some boots and some straps. Ex-felons love their families, lives, children etc. and many of them want to live the American Dream but America in many cases have written them off as nobodies and relegated them to the back waters of society. The American Dream for many ex-felons has become the American Nightmare!

There are approximately 25, million ex-felons in the U.S. and every year approximately 1,000,000 new people are convicted of a felony. Ex-felons have power that they do not realize that they have. Ex-felons can decide the outcome of many local, state and national elections. Just like gays, women and African Americans united and wielded their power at the voting booth; ex-felons in the not too distant future will resolve to use their power also. When any group unite and go to the voting booth, politicians immediately recognize them and the power that they wield.

Until America is ready to bring all people to the table and find out what is needed in all communities to reduce crime, America will continue to build prisons and jails and incarcerate people for crimes which could really be avoided. The three greatest predictors of crime are one’s environment, economics and genetics. Yes, I said genetics. Unlike Lombroso, I do not believe that people have criminal genes but I do believe that some people from particular families and cultures are predisposed to a greater extent to commit certain types of crimes. In my theory “Enviroecogenetics” I explain the rationale for these statements. Until we address the education issues surrounding poor people and the extreme poverty faced by poor people, we are not even tapping the surface in regards to reducing crime and recidivism. A lack of education produces poverty and poverty breeds crime and criminals go to jail and so the cycle goes. Many of my colleagues might disagree with this statement, but I believe that the one greatest predictor of crime is education. As Horace Mann stated many year ago, Education is the great equalizer.

Finally, there are many ex-felons whose only wish is to be given another chance. A chance to get a good education, a chance to work, and a chance to have their voting rights restored a chance to learn a skill, a chance to get another opportunity. My message to ex-felons is to never give up. Just because you lose a battle in your life it doesn’t mean that you have lost the war.

Corrections.com author, Dr. Tracy Andrus, is the author of “Beneath the Skin of Black Folks-How black Folks in America Really feel”, From Prisoner to PhD-My Eleven Year Journey, and Why are so Many Black Folks in Jail. Dr. Andrus dissertation is entitled “A Macroanalysis of Poverty and African American Incarceration. Dr. Tracy Andrus became the first African American in the U. S. to earn a PhD in Juvenile Justice from Prairie View A&M University in 2005. Dr. Andrus is Director of Criminal Justice at a private HBCU in East Texas.


  1. kalexander2 on 12/04/2014:

    This is an excellent, and much needed article, but more emphasis on higher education need to be discussed. As someone who has experienced, on more than one location, the challenges (and penalties) of poverty and negative influences, I know firsthand that to be uninformed and desperate is to taste the recipe of personal of disaster. a person cannot self correct without information. Information and exposure offered at American Universities and colleges is the master-key to any door. And, when a person is armed with a college degree he/she is ready to do battle no matter how powerful elitists are. When I was 18 year of age I enrolled in city college, dropped out due to extreme poverty and commenced the journey of several felony convictions; at age 58 I returned to school seeking a career that would counteract my age and felony convictions. Not much has changed with respect to my income, but I am not the same person I was before I returned to school. I am calm but still angry, still poor but patient and tolerate of my plight in life. I am now able to 'problem solve' with the best possible solutions to any issue I encounter in life, and I no longer feel like a 'victim.' My exposure to new ideas and people of all races have placed my among the very best, even if I cannot match bankbooks with any of them because I know what they know.

  2. RichardS63 on 05/18/2014:

    The criminal justice system is designed to create a permanent criminal class. We let folks out of jail early on parole. But they can be returned to prison for things that the ordinary citizen can do without consequence. For example drink alcohol or hang out with the "wrong" people. Society has an open discrimination policy against ex offenders. They are prevented from getting good jobs, decent housing, most forms of public assistance. They are forced to help pay for this system that keeps them down through taxes. These people have already shown a disdain for societies rules. Yet society expects them to accept this situation for the rest of their lives. There's a plan destined for success. Further, we now have private prisons. Which of course produces a need for inmates. America has 5% of the worlds population but 25% of the worlds inmates. Why? Because the federal money rolling into the states to cover the cost of housing inmates exceeds the actual cost. Half of those incarcerated are there for drug related crimes. A simple matter of decriminalizing drugs would bring about a massive reduction in crime. None of the associated stealing and violence would occur. A cheap available supply of drugs would prevent this. Before it became illegal about 100 years ago if one got addicted to Laudenum (morphine liquid) life went on pretty much as before. There was no social stigma and no one had to rob banks to afford it. While most of the public has a general apathy on the subject three groups believe drugs should be illegal. The cartels who make huge profits, the cops who make huge profits from asset seizures and the boys on Wall Street who make more than anyone else. Money laundering is the second or third largest industry in the world generating over a trillion dollars a year. That's why our criminal justice system dysfunctions the way it does. If a man is released from prison and fall into the rejection cycle of perpetual punishment he is almost assured to return to prison. Those who get released with nothing but the clothes on their backs with $50.00 and go to a halfway house don't have much of a chance either. I know a man who made it work in those exact conditions. He had a belief in God and that God would find him a job. This was based on his belief that since God commanded him to work it was his job to look and be willing. He quickly found a job and worked it for years. Don't underestimate a mans faith. It what often sustains while in prison so it can continue to sustain upon release. Ultimately it is on the individual. He who accepts responsibility for his place in life empowers himself to change it. The deck is stacked against the felon but that doesn't mean there is no chance to win.

  3. LydtaRuth on 12/03/2013:

    You state, "The three greatest predictors of crime are one’s environment, economics and genetics. Yes, I said genetics. Unlike Lombroso, I do not believe that people have criminal genes but I do believe that some people from particular families and cultures are predisposed to a greater extent to commit certain types of crimes. In my theory “Enviroecogenetics” I explain the rationale for these statements. Until we address the education issues surrounding poor people and the extreme poverty faced by poor people, we are not even tapping the surface in regards to reducing crime and recidivism. A lack of education produces poverty and poverty breeds crime and criminals go to jail and so the cycle goes. Many of my colleagues might disagree with this statement, but I believe that the one greatest predictor of crime is education. As Horace Mann stated many year ago, Education is the great equalizer. " Kinda disagree on that one. My son is from an upper-class middle AA family, father passed away 3 years ago but very much a part on my son's life and yes we were we married. Both parents post-graduate degree. Son caught up with poor white female, tried to break it off ,but she kept making offers he was too immature to refuse. Basically, they both were playing immoral game. Police arrested him. Mom was out of the country. Got back found out, asked for referral from high ranking AA officer for criminal lawyer. Trusted him. Hired him. Son wanted to go to court because he was innocent of charges. Lawyer ( we discovered was simply a paid PD) convinced son to take a plea of burglery - which was not a charge and not even remotely. Naive son, and extremely ill mother agreed and voila son sentenced to 3 yrs in prison and 2 years probation. Did I mention my son is just shy of 12 hrs from MBA - Financial concentration. Lawyer's reason for recommending plea (as we later discovered ihe never takes anything to trial) . His implication to my son was that an AA male would never win a case against a white female even if the evidence did not support her claim. We later discovered evidence did not support her claim....but my son is now a convicted felon and will probably never get a job again in the field for which he was preparing...it's near impossible to win post-conviction will you agreed to a plea. So all that to, socioeconomic status, educational levels got him not break. Should mention that some guys I from his high school played a prank on a fellow classmate and the kids was burned to death in the house fire. The culprits of the prank got 6 months in county and charged with a misdemeanor. The difference-race:: same socioeconomic background, 2nd year under-grad students....perhaps they polled their resources and didn't have a sell-out an officer to make recommendation, I rant...shall stop. This still am very sore and unfair on so many levels. Was my son guilty of living immorally. You bet. Was he guilty of the charges taking into consideration their shared patterns of stupidity. Nope. She obviously has more street smarts.

  4. Rob on 12/02/2013:

    You said "Ex-felons can decide the outcome of many local, state and national elections." You have bought in to the lie. I committed a felony I am not an X-felon. The second lie is I have any power, I have not been able to vote my entire life. The problem is that we do not have any political power. The risk out weight the rewards if I speaking out about injustice. I have learned to accept that there is no God in the American system. I have learned our whole "criminal justice" system is based on a pound of flesh, a human idea of payment. It is not based in Christian biblical ideals. In the end the criminal is not restore to society and the victim does not get justice. You talk like you read the bible, but I wounder if you have. If you had you would know there is no jail in Jewish law or Christian revelations. The criminal repays the victim and is never taken out of society. Or he/she is put to death in public view by the victim and leaders of the society. But that is what God intended. We do not care what Gods plan is, we only care about how we can use God to control others. One of the biggest evils of the American experiment is it's criminal justice, and law making crime of acts God did not call sin. I think until we change the way we see our selfs we can not change the way we see others. And as long as we follow our unholy ways we will never find God.

  5. j.sin11 on 06/25/2013:

    I would like some information on exceptions, and pardons. I live in Arizona. Also any help with employment opportunities. I have 2 felony convictions from 1996, drive by shooting and fraud/forgery. please email me at jasondbeck@gmail.com thank you

  6. felon05 on 06/03/2013:

    As a felon or ex or whatever you want to label me, it really doesn't mater i understand the problems associated with getting a job. Honestly it somewhat depends on what you were convicted of. Obviously of you committed theft a retail job is out of the question. I have found smaller mom and pop type businesses are more open minded.whole bigger companies are not. It also depends on you, your appearance your attitude you ability. But in general bigger companies Aren't a open off forgive. I'm Harley Davidson mechanic with amost 20 years experience and Harley will practically laugh at me when i Can make 90% of the technicians cry lol. At some your past its your past in a prefect world. The only difference between me and non demons is i got caught. Nobody is perfectly innocent how many off you have driven home drunk... One wedding move and your a murderer...of you do the time it should be forgotten. You shutoff be able to start over be able to prove your worth. If you burn should you bee forbidden from cooking.? A mistakes is a mistake you learn from out a move on. Nobody is perfect.

  7. Jonathan on 05/31/2013:

    TO Felon First I would like address those who have made a post in response to this article, particular those who focus on closed minded ideas: “Don’t commit a crime in the first place” or “Case Closed.” There are many psychological and environmental factors in why people go prison; such as genetics- the way nutrition, environment, and inherited disposition play a role in response to violence, stress, health, and fear, which all play a key role in behavior. Men between the ages of 17-23, have higher levels of testosterone, over ten times the amount of other men in different age groups. If your intelligent enough to understand and believe the statement “don’t commit a crime in the first place” I am going to assume that you are not aware of the fact that the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for higher level thinking, such as: rational thought, creativity, PLANNING AND THINKING AN ACTION through, is not fully developed until, or around, the age of 25. This means that on a neural level, younger men, and woman, are biologically more impulsive. So when you add in the types of environments, which people who go to prison are in, then combine it with the higher levels of testosterone, what do you get? Well, when you look at statistics you see the correlation; the fact that most convicted felons received or committed their felony between the ages of 17-23. This information is just a small part and role, in the dynamic reason that contribute to someone making an irrational decision, which result to being convicted of felony. “Don’t commit the crime in the first place”! Haha… that statement is not a solution. Nor does that statement help the issue of this article. In FACT, that statement is a direct representation of the ignorance- lack of understanding and education- that surround social issues. If someone had said, “Well to avoid having kids just don’t have sex,” then we would have never invented condoms.. Also, what if someone had said, well to avoid stupid people, just don’t write the article. Actions should be taken to help those avoid felonies and actions should be taken to help those with felonies. Both of these actions are being taken now. Of course there are also those who taking actions against. To better society, actions from the former must be continued, expanded, and discussed, which leads me to the statement of our educated friend, MBA, who said “case closed.” As for the “case closed” statement, this case is and will remain open so long as the prison population receives poor “rehabilitation” within in the prison system. To Felon, if you could email me at jonathanuta2013@hotmail.com I would like to ask you few questions. I am studying Health and Neuroscience at UTA and plan on going to Graduate School. I believe that because you have gone through so much, in attempting to find a suitable employer in your field, that you can give me a lot of advice based on your experience. I am a felon as well. Thank you.

  8. MBA student on 05/14/2013:

    The absolute ignorance of some people. There are some people out here that will say"Once a felon, always a felon". For the person that said dont do anything without thinking? You will never know until you get placed in a position. Suppose someone breaks into your house. You are going to do whatever's necessary to protect your family right? Well until recently, guns were banned in D.C. so a man can go to jail for brandishing a gun, in his own house, to protect his family. Hence becoming a felon. Vehicular manslaughter is also a felony. You can be as sober as a choir member and hit a pedestrian trying to avoid a pothole or animal. This is another example. Lets get one thing straight, a felony conviction doesn't mean that what the person did was intentional or done at the spare of the moment. If I had a change to correct my felony, I wouldn't because I'm going to to what it takes to get a burglar out of my house....Case Closed...

  9. felon on 04/08/2013:

    first off i would like to clear up one thing, there is no such. thing as X FELON. saying someone is an x felon suggests that at one time a certain person WAS a felon and now they are not. once you are convicted of a felony in this country you will remain a convicted for the resf of yojr life. oh yes i have heard the stories of people being pardoned however you either have to have lots and lots of money combined with knowing the right people or have done something extraordinary for humanity. most of us felons do well to simply have a job. to the person that said "how about not becoming a felon in the first place..." i respect your position however this is a much more complex problem than that. please dont over simplify. take time to get to know a person with the felony problem, hear their story before you make your judgement. this issue effects everyone more than they know on many. levels. i wont bore you withy story but i will say this, i left prison in 1988. in 1999 i began studying biology chemistfy and mathematics. ovet time i began doing research in genetics and teaching organic chemistry aswell as physics and math through all levels of calculus. in 1999 i took a national competitive exam put out by the american chemical society. out of over 15000 people i scored in the top 1 percent. not to brag im simply making a point. all was going well until 911. after this tragedy i cant even get through the door of any kind of laboratory. ive spent tons of money .and time trying to redeem myself. to no avail. ive out competed thousands of people academically and ive also helped many many people acheive their goals academically. many of these people who could not afford a tutor i helped for free. everyone on campus in the sciences knew who i was and knew they could come to me for help. however in the im still jusy a felon.

  10. Krzysz on 02/04/2013:

    How about don't make decisions in the spur of the moment? How about not becoming a felon?

  11. Fred Davis on 09/16/2012:

    What I find most interesting in the religious issue is that our country has moved away in the past century from the immutable laws that were once endorsed by our founding fathers and have mixed religion and progressive theology. When one breaks immutable law and obeys the arbitrary laws of the politically correct popular course of the day one will eventually reap negatively because of attempting to rule over the ancient landmarks of scripture and think we will not have a price to pay. If we do this then the enemy will come from inside of our own political system either out of ignorance and weaken our nation or maybe even willfully. If our great nation adheres to immutable natural law we will not descend into unnatural political acts thinking we do well and thus give a foothold to external forces in the global system through passivity and appeasement. Many nations in the past have made the mistake of forgetting natural law and have embraced abnormal doctrines in order to gain political power while losing real authority in the global system. Our economy is a symptom of this mistake today. We need smart policy but not feeling reactionary methods.

  12. Ktl on 09/11/2012:

    I have witnessed the change that comes from inmates experiencing Christ in their lives during their time of incarceration. Being incarcerated gives people an opportunity to experience the illumination of the Word of God in their lives when normally they would have never considered spending time developing a relationship with God. Re-entry is a process that begins when a person first enters into the prison system, and continues an average of one year after release. The continued exposure to the Word of God is a consistent strengthening of what often would not have ever taken place had they not been incarcerated. When an inmate understands that time spent wisely while incarcerated can have a definite positive impact on re-entry you can see the beginning of a changed person. It first takes the willingness to change to become a changed person. The exposure to the Christian environment that comes from chapel visits often stimulates that personal willingness to change. Life is about decisions and choices. The choice that one makes today will determine their direction and location in life tomorrow.

  13. Fred Davis on 09/09/2012:

    Under the Constitution our government "privileges" can be restored or taken away but rights are inalienable. These come from the Creator. The government can move the body around but not the spirit of man. The main issue today is that the government has forgotten the natural laws that are immutable and have replaced such with arbitrary laws by majority rule. Individuals live in their heads through the educational systems but their hearts are hardened and cruel as a whole. Wrong education can bring material wealth but right education can make one content in all circumstances. These incarceration rates are a product of forgetting how this country originated and the principles. The debt today is a symptom of the collective believing that stealing from our neighbors by grinding away the middle class through taxation and inflation is fair and just but in reality this is still theft. Robbing the sustenance of our neighbor may seem like Robin Hood but most of these approaches are the concepts of 1920 and the hoods in Chicago that are robbing the working class. The Industrial Revolution was an educational concept coming out of the universities. They totally rejected the basic premise of our Constitution as well as natural law .There is a right education and a wrong education. How can we have so much liberty with this nation being above even Russia with our incarceration rates? Martin Luther King had it right that a person's character is of more significance than the color of the skin but using the Salad Bowl concept only empowers those in the oligarchy who are incarcerating Americans at an alarming rate. Both parties are involved with the money changers. Education is the key but self education must be objective and not subjective by thinking outside of the box of unrestrained democracy. Individuals may have generational criminal genes but not at birth. Some genes may have a proclivity toward a specific weakness but the trauma after one is born triggers that spore. Drugs avoid pain but reality will catch up eventually. Drug laws create profits for those enforcing such. Personal responsibility and waking up to the reality means we must not look to government to supply our needs but that the government is on the shoulder of the Creator. The prison system has consumed the traditional family unit by incarcerating the head of the family. Now the Krell Machine needs the ladies. Now no one is immune to the economic principle that a borrower is a slave to the lender. They know not what they do.

  14. Fred Davis on 09/05/2012:

    If they don't hire we don't buy is a great policy.It is wise to monitor insurance companies and other industries and to review their background in helping inmates to be successful at becoming successful members of society.

  15. Fred Davis on 09/03/2012:

    This author is right on target in connecting economics and the criminal justice system. The economy is just a representation of a combination of Keynesian economics and everyone thinking there is a free lunch today. However, the less money the system has, the more closely society seems to look at who they have in jail and the cost of frivolous legislative policy. They become less apt to add ludicrous legislation to keep the bureaucracy in power. Society reflected by the system sometimes coddles inmates and then later, when that does. not work, reverts back to harsh punishments. It is a shame for society that many former sex offenders are sleeping in tents. Many of the incarcerated individuals mentioned in the post have fatherless families, which contribute to them being in prison. They are becoming a majority. It is the white male who is becoming a minority in our culture at a rapid pace. We do not want to disenfrancise that minority. The protection of our culture should be directed to the minority, and not the majority under our Constitution. It would be good to look at character, rather than color, gender, or sex. Religion is not the issue, but faith in God is the issue. Healing is through faith, and not through ritual. Many do not know the difference between Christianity and Christendom, but religion does have standards and guidelines. Standards cause outward change, but regenerative faith causes a true inward change. Rehabilitation can make one conform, but restoration heals the individual through regeneration. The content of a person’s character is not related to external appearances. The scarlet letter concept is interesting. At one time adultery was a very serious crime. Today, that scarlet letter crime is almost forgotten. What if that was restored as it was in times past? There would be quite an outcry today.

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