From Army veteran to drug addict to convict to one of the most influential people in North Carolina’s fifth-largest county, Charles Evans says he’s proof that people deserve second chances.
Evans, the vice-chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, visited Raleigh Wednesday to tell his story at the General Assembly as a group of legislators pushes for a “Ban the Box” hiring rule.
It’s common for job applicants to be required to check a box indicating whether or not they have a criminal record. But the bill under consideration at the legislature would get rid of that box on applications for most government jobs at the city, county and state levels.
People who are offered those jobs would still have to pass a background check, no matter what happens. But if this bill passes it would give people with criminal histories a better chance at sitting down with an interviewer to explain why they deserve a second chance.
“There are individuals that are out here that have gone through some missteps in life and made some terrible decisions,” Evans said. “But should we hold them accountable – after they have paid their debt back to society – for the rest of their lives?
“These individuals should be give the opportunity to apply for jobs to take care of themselves, take care of their families or anyone else that they might be taking care of,” he continued. “It gives them hope.”
Evans spoke from experience. Nearly three decades ago he was doing cocaine and embezzling from his job at Fayetteville Regional Airport to pay for his habit, he recently told the Fayetteville Observer. He was convicted in 1992.
After struggling in his own job search after being convicted, Evans started a group called Fresh Start that helps felons get back on their feet. He also won back his right to vote, joined the Fayetteville City Council in 2005 and has been a county commissioner since 2010.
Partially because of Evans’ support, Cumberland County is one of several local governments – also including Wake, Durham and Mecklenburg counties – to have passed a local “Ban the Box” rule.
Having a job reduces by 50 percent the chance that someone with a record will go back to prison, said Dennis Gaddy, another supporter of the “Ban the Box” bill.
Like Evans, Gaddy is a former felon who now dedicates his time to helping other people with records get back on track. He leads Raleigh’s Community Success Initiative and is the North Carolina NAACP’s criminal justice chairman.
“If you make it hard to do the right thing, you make it easy to do the wrong thing,” Gaddy said. “So you say ‘Get a job, that’s the right thing to do. Get some employment, get some housing, that’s the right thing to do.’ But every time I check a box, I don’t even get a call back.”
The “Ban the Box” bill is one of two high-profile criminal justice reform bills up for debate in the General Assembly right now.
Another proposal would have North Carolina’s prosecutors stop charging all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, no matter how minor their alleged offense. North Carolina is one of only two states that still does that, along with New York.
Both causes have varying levels of bipartisan support. One Republican has signed on to both bills and the raise-the-age bill has a host of Republicans and Democrats in support.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran