By Jodi D. Peterson
Executive Director, Interfaith Sanctuary
For those of you who read the story of Michael Perry in our first issue of Word on the Street, you know the many challenges Michael faced in trying to attain a state ID after serving 26 ½ years in prison. Michael and I battled the system together to help him find his way back into society, which hinges for many on getting a valid Idaho State ID. After overcoming this hurdle, Michael went on to study for and pass his driver’s ed test, and he now has a valid Idaho Driver’s License.
While incarcerated, Michael earned his GED and a college degree and created a new way of life for himself. During more than two decades in prison, Michael overcame addiction, became a mentor, counseled fellow prisoners and worked within the system to help improve himself. A judge saw all of Michael’s hard work and achievements, reversed his life sentence and set him free in April of this year.
Once released all Michael wanted to do was get back to work and live a life helping others overcome their struggles and succeed. He sent out countless resumes, filled out online applications, made many calls, and each time he was rejected because of the one box he had to keep checking: Yes, I have been convicted of a felony.
No one offered to hear his story. Everyone passed on him because of the X in the box. I stayed close to Michael during this time and even reached out to some of the agencies I’ve worked with to vouch for Michael’s determination and character. There seemed to be no second chances for Michael, an extraordinary human being with so much courage, talent, kindness and life experience.
I’m not one to take ‘no’ for an answer, especially for those who try so hard to better themselves. At Interfaith Sanctuary, we believe in second chances. So, here’s the best part of this story so far: Michael Perry is now a full-time employee at Interfaith Sanctuary. As assistant facility director, Michael brings his positive attitude and desire to do work that matters to our shelter.
And his journey is far from over. Recently Michael was accepted into Idaho Health & Welfare’s Peer Support Specialist Program, which, when completed, will allow him to mentor participants in our new Clean and Sober Program.
I share this story because of how lucky we are to have such a special man working with our staff, guests and volunteers. It is important to remember as community members, employers and friends that our pasts may help shape us but they do not define us. A checkbox on an application form is an inadequate determinant of a person’s character and work ethic. Often, it is people who have faced the most adversity that have the strongest will to succeed and the kindest hearts.
You can learn more about Interfaith Sanctuary’s clean and sober program by calling (208) 345-5815.
To read the first part Michael’s story, click here.
Word on the Street is a collection of personal narratives, artwork, and poetry published by guests at Interfaith Sanctuary and Shelter in Boise, Idaho. It addresses the stigma of homelessness in and its material consequences for the population. Word on the Street represents the voices of Boise’s homeless community as a counter narrative against misrepresentations of themselves and a call for connection.
Its purpose is to bring awareness to the voices of homeless individuals and hope for motivating others through change. This paper is compiled and maintained by Project Well-being, a day program, at Interfaith Sanctuary and Shelter.
If you have a story about how homelessness, mental health and lack of resources affect you, please feel free to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to help the homeless, or fund this paper, please feel free to contact us.