I could not help but compare and contrast the stories of Travis Hudson and Michael Holley, both of which surfaced this week.
Both men are felons. Hudson’s felony happened 18 years ago when he was 15. He apparently had knowledge of a burglary committed by someone else and helped obscure it. In the years that followed, he stayed out of trouble and went to college. He’s been supporting himself as a salesman at JMI Flooring in Bartow. He wants to teach or become a nurse. Black men are in short supply as teachers.Sorry. Zero tolerance and all that. Keep selling floors. You should have known at 15 your stupidity would wreck every life’s ambition. Quick, how many kids of the 35 percent face that kind of accountability in their lives?
Meanwhile, Michael Holley, a quite recent felon, who directly committed crimes for which he went to prison, is right back doing what he loves. Any number of friends and former business associates have pulled him into their bosom.
I should be clear. I don’t have any problem with that. Retribution should have a purpose. Prison was a pretty painful purpose for Holley, I suspect. Extending retribution to post prison life would just pointlessly inflict pain and cost the rest of us money. Let him support himself if he can. And clearly, Michael Holley couldn’t get hired as a teacher or nurse.
But something is on display here. For one, the School District, the public sector, has much higher standards of conduct than private sector sales organizations, even if those standards are incredibly stupid and unjust. Shouldn’t that cause all you private sector fetishists to think a little?
More fundamentally, this is your country. A disgraced, white car dealer can go right back to what he loves to do after prison. Meanwhile an idealistic young black man has his options severely constrained by a crime I’d almost certainly avoid conviction for when I was 15. Or that somebody would have helped me expunge long ago because I come from a background of family and friends of legal and bureaucratic sophistication, from a class that knows how to work the system.
I have a pretty simple question for considering issues of justice and morality within our legal and social structure: Is there any chance this would happen to me, a relatively worldly and well-groomed child of the near elite? If the answer is no, but it still happens to someone else without my pedigree, I consider it my duty to try to denounce it. There is, for instance, virtually no chance that I’ll ever be wrongly removed from a voter roll. Doesn’t mean other people should be, either.
I could have been convicted for any number of crimes as a teenager — as could any one of you, I’d wager, if you’re honest with yourselves. The current president of the United States and his immediate predecessor certainly could have been. The likely difference between us and Hudson is that he grew up in a world in which the accident of his birth and where he grew up likely made him a target of a level of state scrutiny I will never experience. I’m not content, like some of our libertarian friends, to shrug and say that’s life. You shouldn’t be content with that America, either.