Turan Knight is an ex-criminal offender who was given a second chance and is now gainfully employed.
The 33-year-old Tarboro resident spoke adamantly Saturday about his troubled past and his frustrations at being turned down for employment during a forum at Pittman Christian Center in Tarboro. The forum was sponsored by Men Making A Difference (MMAD). Knight was one of four panelists who discussed the expunging of criminal records. Other guests included Daniel Bowers, N.C. Justice Center attorney, Victor Hinnant, North Carolina Department of Commerce of Workforce Solutions, and Dwight Jordan, local activists for Democracy North Carolina. Tarboro town councilman Taro Knight was the moderator,
Turan Knight, who is not related to the councilman, troubled pass with drugs landed him in prison. When he was released in 2008, he said had been reformed. With two kids to support, he began searching for employment but because of his felony conviction, he was turned down.
But Knight didn’t give up. He went to Edgecombe Community College and learned a trade. With a certificate to prove he was a qualified plumber and refrigerator repairman, he was given a second chance and found employment.
According to the North Carolina Justice Center, 1.6 million North Carolinians, or 1 in 5 adults, have a criminal record. In the hiring process, 92 percent of employers conduct background checks on applicants and a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job call back by more than 50 percent.
“You get a lot of 'nos',” Knight said while explaining what happened to him when he was searching for employment. “It’s frustrating. It’s discouraging.”
The new expunging law, which becomes effective Dec. 1 should ease frustration for some ex-offenders. The new law will allow non-violent felony offenders over 18 who have committed a non-violent felony and have completed their sentence and probationary period to have their criminal record expunged. The expunction must be for crime(s) committed within a 12-month period. Ex-offenders who are convicted of other crimes outside a 12-month period are ineligible. Eligibility also includes a 15-year waiting period. An ex-offender can have only one expunction in a lifetime. The old law allowed expunction for only juveniles.
Bower, an advocate for North Carolina Second Chance Alliance, said he would like the law to give a little more leniency, but, “It’s a step in the right direction. For some, it will allow an ex-offender to go from being a felon to not having a record at all.”
Hinnant urges ex-criminals to learn a trade to become employable which could make it harder for employees to turn down a qualified ex-offender.
“When they come out of prison, they have the attitude that nobody cares about them and nobody is going to give them an opportunity so they go back and start doing the same old things,” he said. “We need to break them from that. We need to break them down completely and then build them back up. We need to educate them on new jobs and find companies who are aggressively looking for good employees. We need to train them whether it’s at a two year institution or a four year institution.”
Jordan's discussion was not related to the expunction but instead on the right of ex-felons to vote. He explained that felons in North Carolina can register and vote after serving their sentence, including probation. There are no special documents needed.
MMAD vice president Donald Parker is also an ex-offender. Like Knight, Parker went back to school and earned a degree and is now gainfully employed. Now that he has turned his life around, Parker, along with MMAD, is reaching back to assist ex-criminals.
“This meeting went well,” he said. “The people were given valuable information and now I hope that they will apply it in some form or fashion to help get their records expunged.
Turan Knight’s record has not been expunged and his experience searching for employment has led him to become an advocate for new expunction laws, but he realizes that laws alone will not get an ex-con a job.
“I found out that if you don’t have any experience, you are just a walking no,” he said. “I used to go from (construction) job site to job site. They all told me no. When I went back to school and learned a trade, a door was opened for me. I was given a second chance.”