Month: November 2013

I will Rejoice in “The Lord”

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1 Peter 1:8

New International Version (NIV)
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,

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I asked myself today how has God blessed me in the past? I asked that because I heard my spirit say that my wilderness experience is temporary. On Thanksgiving Eve day I have been in constant meditation about my present posture and position in Life. Instead of looking only at my physical lack, I chose to look at my spiritual richness and “rejoice” about what God says I am in His precious word.

I remember the mother of one of my team members from college. She was fearful about the outcome of the surgery she faced. Doctors had not been able to discover the reason for her symptoms, and cancer seemed an undeniable possibility. To add to her concern, she had little in savings, and being self-employed, she had no insurance or paid sick leave.

As the day of her surgery drew closer, she found herself reading her Bible more and more frequently. A passage in Habakkuk that her son and I would read every night we shared it with her and she called and said I am puzzled.

The prophet obviously knew his nation was about to be invaded and ravaged, but he said;

Habakkuk 3:17-18

New International Version (NIV)
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

She began to write us and tell us that she knew God was always with her and always loved her. Instead of asking for healing, finances, or peace, her prayer became simply, ” I love You, Too! I love You, too!”

As it turned out, the surgeons removed a benign cyst. Her recovery passed quickly. Friends helped with meals, laundry, housekeeping, errands, and even a mortgage payment. She reflected later, “This experience made my love for God grow deeper. And that was far more meaningful than a good medical report.”

If you are facing a burdensome situation today, Rejoice, reflect on God’s love for you. remember His faithfulness in the past. Then, with joy in your heart, tell God what I am saying, Lord I love you even if what I presently am enduring doesn’t work the way I feel it should, I love You so much. I don’t have a daisy peddle love with my God.

No prayer of adoration will ever soar higher than a simple cry: “I love You, God! I know You love me…

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Feeling Poor?

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Read: Psalms 86

Psalm 86

A Prayer of David.

1 Incline Your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and distressed, needy and desiring.
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In one way or another, we can all relate to Psalms 86:1 where David says, “I am poor and needy.” Even the richest among us should understand that poverty and need relate more to the spirit than to the wallet. When billionaire Rich DeVos speaks to groups, he often says, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace.”

Psalms 86 tells us that the help God provides is not measured by a monetary ledger sheet. When we acknowledge that we are poor and needy, it’s not so God will lavish material riches on us. No, we do so to open the door to other, more valuable treasures.

Here’s what God does for the poor and needy. He will “preserve’ our lives and “save” all those who trust in Him. He will be “merciful” and “ready to forgive”. He will listen to and answer prayer. But we’re not to take God’s blessings without giving back. We have a responsibility to learn God’s ways, walk in his truth, “fear [God’s] name”, praise the Lord, and glorify [His] name”.

Do you consider yourself among the “poor and needy”? If so, welcome to the club. Let’s not forget all the spiritual blessings God has for us and the godly response we should have towards His generosity.

We’re thankful for the blessings, Lord,
You give us day by day;
Now help us show our gratitude
By walking in Your way.

The poorest man is he whose only wealth is money….

Singing Bowl

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Deuteronomy 4:32-40

New International Version (NIV)

The Lord Is God

32 Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? 33 Has any other people heard the voice of God[a] speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? 34 Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?

35 You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other. 36 From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire. 37 Because he loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength, 38 to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today.

39 Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. 40 Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.

John 3:V;8 (New International Version)
8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[d]

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Artist and scientist Michael Flynn designed a singing bowl for display in ArtPrize, an international art competition held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The bowl requires no electricity but it does require something that is in short supply; cooperation.

As I observed people trying to make the bowl sing, I was surprised that none of them bothered to read the directions about rocking it gently. Instead, impatient to make music, they kept trying their own ideas. After a few minutes they walked away frustrated and disappointed, as if the bowl was defective.

How many times, I wonder, do we become frustrated that life isn’t working the way we think it should? We keep trying ways that seem right, but things keep turning out wrong. Instead of following God’s Word, we continue trying out wrong. Instead of following God’s Word, we continue trying to find our own way.

The singing bowl reminds us that we can’t expect life to go well if we ignore the instructions of the Designer. Failing to obey divides us from one another and separates us from God. To fulfill His plan for the world and make the way of salvation known, we need to follow His instructions about living and working peacefully together. When life doesn’t go well, it may be that we’ve stopped following God’s Plan.

Sure it takes a lot of courage to put things in God’s hands,
To give ourselves completely, our lives, our hopes, our plans;
To follow where He leads us and make His will our own;
But all it takes is foolishness to go the way alone!

Life is a beautiful song that God is teaching us to sing…..

Is America Desensitized to Human Life?

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These turkeys received a pardon from being Thanksgiving dinner but a felon who by the way is human life never really gets a pardon. A glass bottle, plastic container and aluminum can has more value than human life. It appears to me that America and its capitalistic views find it as a sport to show how desensitized they are about issues associated with these practices.

We all have to live with the decisions we make in life. However, some people are reminded of their decisions daily in the worst possible way. According to a report released this month by the American Civil Liberties Union, 3,200 people are serving life sentences without parole in state and federal prisons for committing non-violent crimes.

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The crimes that land such prisoners in jail for life include acting as a go-between in the sale of $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer, taking a television, circular saw, and a power converter from a vacant house, and making a drunken threat to a police officer while being handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.

The report highlights the stories of 110 men and women who are currently serving their life sentences. The stories are ones that people can relate to and sympathize with. However, due to harsh sentencing laws put in place in the 1980s and 1990s, these people face devastating impacts from their actions.

There is also a staggering amount of racial disparity within the report. Of those serving, 65% are black, 18% are white, and 16% are Latino.

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Dear Aaron–

This year, like most years, I’ll be spending my Thanksgiving back home in Chicago with my parents and my grandmother. We’ll cook and talk and eat together. But while I am enjoying the comforts of home, I’ll spend some time thinking about Clarence Aaron and his family.

I thought Clarence would be out of prison by now. I thought he would be home with his mother, Mrs. Linda Aaron, his sister Katrina, and his other devoted family members who sorely miss him.

I was wrong.

Clarence has already served 20 years of a life sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug crime. He was 24-years old when he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison; his life had hardly begun. Clarence is now 44-years old and a model prisoner. I cannot think of one good reason for him to sit in prison until he dies. That’s why I’m still hopeful that President Obama will do the right thing and commute Clarence’s sentence to right this wrong – one of many caus ed by our unjust sentencing laws. I hope others serving long sentences will be shown mercy, too. And I really hope that Congress will act and pass meaningful sentencing reform so that future generations don’t face the irrational and destructive mandatory sentencing laws that we have now.

Thinking about Clarence and so many others like him makes me thankful that I can spend Thanksgiving with my family. But it also makes me mad that so many others can’t, and that Mrs. Aaron has spent 20 holiday seasons away from her son. And it makes me even more motivated to get to work each morning to fight for reform.

I hope you’ll join me in this fight by making a contribution to FAMM. In fact, if you make a tax-deductible donation by the end of the year, your gift will be matched by another generous FAMM supporter who is just as outraged as I am that Clarence Aaron is still sitting behind bars.

With gratitude,

Kate
Kate Taylor

Case Research Director, FAMM

Do You Except God’s best or Do You Settle for what you consider a extraordinary act of faith?

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2 Kings 13:18-19
New International Version (NIV)
18 Then he said, “Take the arrows,” and the king took them. Elisha told him, “Strike the ground.” He struck it three times and stopped. 19 The man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.”

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Looking from the posture I now have insight I am guilty of this type of faith. My predicaments sometimes dictate opposite reactions in retrospect of having a full time faith posture. I was rocked to the core today when I realized I operated contrary to my witness before a brother I was trying to disciple. I saw my full feebleness without Jesus being all I need no matter the situation.

How striking and powerful is the message of these words! Jehoash, king of Israel, thought he had done quite well when he struck the ground “three times and stopped. “To him, it seemed to be an extraordinary act of faith, but the Lord and the prophet Elisha were deeply disappointed, because he had stopped halfway.

Yes, he did receive something; in fact, he received a great deal–exactly what he had believed God for, in the final analysis. yet Jehoash did not receive everything that Elisha meant for him to have or that the Lord wanted to bestow on him.. He missed much of the meaning of the promise, and the fullness of the blessing. he did receive more than any human could have offered, but he did not receive God’s best.

Dear believer, how sobering is the truth of this story! How important it is for us to learn to pray through our circumstances and to fully examine our hearts with God’s message to us! Otherwise, we will never claim all the fullness of His promise or all the possibilities that believing prayer offers.

Ephesians 3:20-21
New International Version (NIV)
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

In no other place does the apostle Paul use these seemingly redundant words: “immeasurably more than all.” Each word is packed with God’s infinite love and power “to do” for His praying believers. yet there is the following limitation: “according to His power that is at work within us.” He will only do as much for us as we will allow Him to do in us. The same power that saved us, washed us with His blood, filled us with the power of His Holy Spirit, and protected us through numerous temptations will work for us to meet evry emergency, every crisis, every circumstance, and every adversary.

Penology,Overcriminalization , Individualization, Frustration, Rehabilitation

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Over criminalization is the act of imposing unbalanced penalties with no relation to the gravity of the offense committed or the culpability of the wrong doer.

pe·nol·o·gy;
The study of the punishment of crime and of prison management.

Individualization;

Discriminating the individual from the generic group or species

Rehabilitation;

The restoration of someone to a useful place in society

frus·tra·tion;

The feeling of being upset or annoyed, esp. because of inability to change or achieve something.
Felons

The plight of a felon is one that doesn’t attract the needed attention required to get legislative change. Penology and Individualization and Rehabilitation and Over- Criminalization are all topics that should render 500,000 signatures on petitions nation wide, but it is not getting the attention needed because just like the crack epidemic, until it hits home in a real fashion to the powers that be family members this plight will only continue to frustrate the individuals that wind up in the teeth of America’s new conundrum.

Although depriving people convicted of felonies of the right to vote has a long history, the modern laws in many states are rooted in racial discrimination. In these states, the laws were enacted after the Civil War and designed to deny the vote to African-Americans, and continue to have that effect today. More than five million American citizens are now denied the right to vote, including 13% of the African-American population, because of felony convictions. Black Americans are imprisoned at 39 times the rate of whites for non-violent drug offenses. In total, more than 60% of people in prison are racial and ethnic minorities, despite being only 28% of the U.S. population.
Every state except Maine and Vermont prevents inmates from voting while in prison for a felony. Once released from prison, voter eligibility depends on the state a person votes in, with laws varying widely. Most states deprive parolees and probationers of the vote, and a few states permanently deny the right to vote to all ex-offenders. Ex-offenders in most states have to go through a wide variety of application processes, and some may never regain the right to vote.

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Events in recent months have justifiably caused Americans to ask whether a powerful, activist, and interventionist government and bureaucracy is good to have. Those who have been looking at overcriminalization, however, have known that government and regulatory agencies have been targeting and oppressing Americans for a long time. And it’s getting worse.

In many criminal laws, the “guilty mind” requirement has been removed or weakened. This means people can go to prison regardless of whether they intended to break the law or knew their actions were in violation of the law.

Traditionally, crimes had two components: (l) mens reu (guilty mind), and (2) actus reus (bad act).

Today, many criminal laws and regulations have insufficient or no mens rea (guilty mind) requirement — meaning, a person need not know that his or her conduct is illegal in order to be guilty of the crime.

An example story is the following:

THE CRIME: Rescuing a baby deer

Jeff Counceller, a police officer, and his wife Jennifer spotted an injured baby deer on their neighbor’s porch. Instead of turning a blind eye to the dying fawn, the Councillors took the deer in and nursed it back to health.

An Indiana Conservation Officer spotted the fawn (named Dani) in the Councillors’ yard — and promptly charged the couple with unlawful possession of a deer, a misdemeanor offense. Fortunately for her, the day that “Little Orphan Dani” was to be euthanized by the state, the deer escaped into the wild. Due to public outrage, the government dropped the charges.

“Overcriminalization describes the trend to use the criminal law rather than the civil law to solve every problem, to punish every mistake, and to compel compliance with regulatory objectives. Criminal law should be used only if a person intentionally flouts the law or engages in conduct that is morally blameworthy or dangerous.”

We have problems like this in Wichita, believe it or not. An ordinance passed by the Wichita City Council in 2010 might ensnare anyone visiting city hall, if they happen to have a broad-tip marker in their purse or briefcase:

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“Possession of Graffiti Implements Prohibited in Public Places. It is unlawful for any person to have in his/her possession any graffiti implement while in, upon or within one hundred (100) feet of any public facility, park, playground, swimming pool, skate park, recreational facility, or other public building owned or operated by the city, county, state, or federal government, or while in, under or within one hundred (100) feet of an underpass, bridge, abutment, storm drain, spillway or similar types of infrastructure unless otherwise authorized.”

“Graffiti implements” are defined broadly earlier in the ordinance.

If you’re thinking about a career in taxicab driving, be advised that the city has ordinances punishing you if you’re found to have violated these standards: “Fail to maintain their personal appearance by being neat and clean in dress and person” and “Fail to keep clothing in good repair, free of rips, tears and stains.”

When criminal laws are created to “solve” every problem, punish every mistake, and compel the “right” behaviors, this troubling trend is known as overcriminalization. Ultimately, it leads to injustice for honest, hard-working Americans at every level of society. […]

Over the next six months, Members of Congress from both parties will study this issue in depth, hold hearings, and—with the right encouragement—take steps to enact real reform.

The recent scandals involving the IRS and other encroaching agencies of the federal government have shed light on just how much the state interferes in Americans’ everyday lives. The Heritage Foundation offers a few examples:

A young girl was fined $535… for rescuing a wounded woodpecker.

A businessman was jailed for years… for shipping lobsters in plastic bags rather than cardboard boxes.

A Maryland father and building engineer faced a years-long legal ordeal… after being unfairly targeted under the Clean Water Act.

In a new project — USA vs. YOU — the conservative organization documents stories of violated liberties and offers advice on how you can help stop this disturbing trend.

States push to provide some ex-felons a second chance; But life as a felon free is still a struggle

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The struggles of a convicted individual are just as severe as a terminal cancer patient, or how about being still incarcerated mentally after being released. There are contingencies set in place within the law that will not render a felon success without a faith in God to succeed. Interviewing for jobs and resources are just the crust of the problem. A felon is denied decent housing as well as resources from the county or state they are trying to re-enter-grate within.

The pain associated with this plight of life is beyond the words I can articulate here. I have made mistakes and I have even second guessed some of the decisions I’ve made like serve my country and tell the truth always only to be condemned and rejected by those who are still practicing their hypocrisy. I refuse to be defeated by the minds that have put this system of disenfranchisement into exsistance. I will continue to fight and advocate for myself and others until the victory I declare and decree is seen in this life I now have.

 

Walter Fortson is a young man with impressive credentials: He graduated with honors from Rutgers University this year and is headed to the University of Cambridge on a prestigious Truman scholarship.

But on a typical job application, the first thing an employer might notice about Fortson is that he’s an ex-felon.

Fortson, 28, served two years in prison for dealing crack cocaine: He got out in March 2010 and has been clean since. Though he’s successfully turned his life around, he says discrimination against those with a criminal record is very real.

 

“There have been a lot of times that I haven’t been offered an opportunity because of the stigma,” said Fortson, a Philadelphia native. “A lot of companies have a blanket policy that excludes anyone who’s had any contact with the criminal justice system.”

Fortson is now backing a campaign to make employers remove questions about criminal history from job applications, postponing such queries until a later stage of the hiring process–an initiative widely known as “Ban the Box.”

A growing number of states are coming on board. This week, Rhode Island became the eighth state in the country to pass a statewide Ban the Box law, and it’s one of the most expansive versions out there: The state will require all private and public employers to delay questions about criminal history, following Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Hawaii. Four other states and 51 municipalities have already passed similar measures for hiring public employees, according to the National Employment Law Project. Ban the Box bills are now being considered in New Jersey and California, which passed an executive measure covering public employees in 2010.

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“People who have made mistakes need to be able to move on, to move forward with their lives, and we need to change our laws to allow them, even encourage them, to do so,” Rhode Island state senator Harold Metts, a Democrat, said in a statement last week. “They are not being allowed to do so if every job application they fill out looks like an instant dead-end because of that one question about criminal history.”

Supporters say the change is a simple, cost-effective way to help ex-offenders who face major barriers to getting their lives back on track, making it more likely that employers will look at their qualifications first.

“We’re not even saying don’t ask us the question–we’re saying don’t ask the question as the first thing that you do,” said Dorsey Nunn, director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, an ex-felon-turned-advocate who helped spearhead the movement in the Bay Area. “We are asking for opportunity to compete.”

 

Ban the Box laws generally make exemptions for schools, law enforcement, and other institutions that already require more stringent screening of their employees. But for other kinds of employers, no matter if it’s violent felony, a sex offense, or misdemeanor–They are prohibited from asking about applicants’ criminal histories when they first apply for a job.

The campaign has come at a time when a record number of Americans have tangled with the criminal justice system. About one in three Americans has some kind of criminal record, including arrests that did not lead to convictions, according to the Department of Justice. And NELP estimates that one in four Americans–65 million people–has a record that would show up on routine background check.

Advocates point out that employment is one of the most effective ways to reduce the recidivism rate and support low-income communities–and they insist there’s an upside for employers as well. “In my experience, a lot of times these folks actually make exemplary employees because they work a lot harder and they have something to prove in a way, or that’s how they feel,” said Rhode Island state representative Michael Chippendale, a Republican who spent decades in the manufacturing industry.

Ban the Box supporters stress that employers are under no obligation to hire such candidates and can still conduct background checks and make the usual inquiries, just later in the hiring process. In Rhode Island, for instance, employers can make such inquiries at the first interview, while Hawaii prohibits criminal history questions until employers make a conditional job offer.

Victims’ advocates haven’t rallied to oppose the Ban the Box laws, arguing that it’s more important to ensure that employers follow through with their background checks when they do conduct them. ”Everyone has a right to interview for a job, but there’s an onus on employers to get somebody who’s well fitted,” says Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

 

But many businesses groups say the new rules are too rigid and time-consuming, on top of newly revised federal guidelines employers must follow in using criminal records in hiring. “If you have an applicant who was convicted of murder, and you were never going to hire that person anyway, why would you go through the whole process of doing an interview to discover that information?” said Michael Kalt, a San Diego employment lawyer and lobbyist for the California branch of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Employers also argue that Ban the Box could lead to excessive litigation. According to Michael Egenton, senior vice-president of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, “People may say, ‘I didn’t get hired because I was asked that question,’ and then there’s a lawsuit.”

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The effort to downplay criminal records in hiring isn’t new: Hawaii first passed the first statewide Ban the Box law in 1998. But the idea began to spread after 9/11 as employer background checks became increasingly commonplace, at the same time that record numbers of Americans were coming out of prison in many states. Boston and Chicago passed citywide Ban the Box initiatives in 2004, and cities from Carrboro, North Carolina, to Travis County, Texas, have followed suit.

But it wasn’t until the financial meltdown that Ban the Box started to take off at the state level, and the ranks of the unemployed everywhere began to rise.

With far fewer job openings than applicants, employers have been especially picky about who to hire, making it harder for job seekers with any marks against them–let alone a criminal history. Advocates believe this has made it even harder for African-Americans and other minority groups to benefit from the economic recovery, as they’re arrested and convicted at higher rates than the rest of the population.

Such pressures seem to have accelerated the pace of change. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Mexico passed statewide laws in 2010, followed by Colorado, Maryland, and Minnesota, which expanded a 2009 law to cover private employees as well as public ones. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has also promised to pass a directive in banning the box for state employees. “The political atmosphere has changed,” said Nunn, the Bay Area advocate. “My measure in terms of the successfulness of the issue is how many people have begun to replicate this.”

There’s a good chance that California could become the next state to come on board: a “Ban the Box” bill that would apply to public employees just passed out of committee this month, with hopes for a vote later this year. But the idea has received a more lukewarm reception in New Jersey, whose bill would regulate private employers as well.

“We recognize and appreciate the question of whether we should hold a college student who had a keg party at his dorm to the same level that an individual who held up a convenience store and shot the clerk, said Egenton, of New Jersey’s Chamber of Commerce. “But when you legislate something like this, it’s easier said than done.”

While simply removing the box asking about criminal history seems simple enough, the fine print is more complex. According to the New Jersey bill, for instance, employers can consider only misdemeanors committed in the last 5 years and felonies that have been committed within the last decade, although they can ask about murder, attempted murder, arson, terrorism and registrable sex offenses at any time. If they withdraw a job offer after a background check, employers must submit a form to the state explaining why.

Ban the Box supporters say that such measures are necessary because discrimination can be difficult to pinpoint: Applicants aren’t typically told their criminal histories are problematic, they say–they just don’t get a call back.

There’s some research to back up their claims: in one study, Princeton sociologist Devah Pager sent out job applicants with fictitious resumes and found that those with criminal histories received one-half to one-third the number of callbacks for similar kinds of entry-level positions. Black applicants were even less likely than white applicants to get a job interview even when they had the same criminal histories, Pager found.

The Obama administration also has flagged some of the more egregious violations. While employers are not prohibited from using criminal records in hiring, the federal government has long held that the discriminatory use of criminal records is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as such hiring practices have a disproportionate impact on racial minorities.

The administration has updated its guidelines for Title VII discrimination, but it also hasn’t been afraid to use litigation as well: Last month, it filed suit against BMW for a blanket exclusion of employees with criminal records and against Dollar General for revoking a job offer to a woman convicted for drug possession.

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The new Ban the Box laws have yet to prompt a wave of lawsuits. But supporters admit there also isn’t a lot of evidence right now to show whether Ban the Box has actually made a difference in lowering barriers for ex-offenders. They assert, however, that it’s a welcome step at a time when Americans are increasingly required to disclose any criminal history–not only when applying for jobs, but also for housing, insurance, and other basic life necessities.

For Forton, the Rutgers graduate, talking about his criminal past lets him explain the progress he’s made since then–how he discovered his passion for fitness while in prison, became a certified personal trainer, and ultimately decided to go to college to study exercise physiology, attending classes while he was still in a halfway house.

“I can show and explain how far I’ve come,” he said. “All of which ultimately gives me an actual shot for the position.”