It's commonly referred to by many ex-offenders as "the box."
It's the part of a job application that asks a job applicant about a possible felony record. It can prevent a person from getting a job, housing, or financial support.
For many ex-offenders, companies don't want to hire them right out of prison.
For some employers, there's a stigma: Once a criminal, always a criminal. But there are support programs that help these individuals build a positive job history to help them get that first job.
It's incredibly important, because statistically they're likely to commit another crime and end up back in prison, creating a vicious cycle.
At Goodwill Industries, there's a special program that gives people a second chance.
Goodwill CEO Deb Coble explains what the Second Chance Program is all about: “We serve well over 300 individuals every year who are returning home from prison.”
The program is a six-month intensive course. It’s one of many in Michiana that helps offenders successfully re-enter the community.
“We know that once offenders are employed, the likelihood that they will repeat the offense is diminished greatly,” Coble explains.
Ironically, this is where a current Goodwill staffer and former offender got her second chance.
If you saw Maria Stancati walking around Goodwill, it would be hard to believe that this bubbly blonde once served time in prison.
She recalls, “I was broken when I got home. I was broken. I needed to find myself.”
A former teacher, Stancati was sentenced in 2009 to 20 years in prison for dealing meth. She was given a break after serving more than a year in state prison with good behavior, and was put on probation.
When she got back to South Bend, Stancati waitressed for a while and reported to the DuComb Center. She later started working part-time for Goodwill.
“In May in 2012 I got a promotion (full-time) to business services representative, and that's what I've been doing since. So I'm pretty lucky. No, I'm darn lucky,” she admits.
Now, Stancati is raising her five-month-old baby and has a full-time job despite a felony record.
“Not everybody gets the hand up I got,” she realizes. “Not everybody gets the hand up I got. Not everybody gets somebody to recognize their strengths and say, 'You can be more than that.'”
With the Goodwill Second Chance program, in one year there are 300 students enrolled but only 60 hired. Coble says it’s simply because there are not enough employers. “There are some felonies that are harder to employ than others,” she admits.
It also depends on what crime is written in that box. Coble says, for employers, it's harder to trust some felony records than others.
“Really, it is a misconception that if I hired this person they are going to steal from me,” she explains. “'If I hire this person, they are going to come in and kill people.' It’s really getting the employer to understand that if an individual is actively engaged in employment there is not going to be a need to resort to behavior they had in the past.”
Stancati passionately talks about what’s called “the box.” “If you have two applications, and if they have the exact same qualifications and everything is the same and that felony box is checked, you're going to put that one away.”
It's a struggle she faced at first, embarrassed to show her face when she came back to South Bend after prison.
“I was only gone a year and one week. I was locked up a year and one week in prison. It took me a good seven or eight months… well, I still sit with my face to the door. I can't do the back,” she explains, about her ongoing trust issues after serving time in prison.
Despite her hard work and a steady comeback, Stancati constantly says she is just "doing what she is supposed to do."
“The majority of people do the right thing," she says. "I just want to be in the majority.”
But she knows that will likely never happen, whether it's a felony record or simple internet search that leads to her past.
“You have to be willing to give somebody a chance, you have to, and if you can bet on me, you bet on anybody,” she says.
In Indiana, expunging a felony record is difficult.
A new law was passed last year. Basically, the lower the felony, the easier it is to have the felony removed from a record.
However, it’s likely an ex-offender isn’t eligible for expungement for five to 10 years for some crimes. Plus, there are lawyer and filing fees.
Many are curious about Stancati’s twin sister, Michelle. She is in the women's correctional facility in Indianapolis. She did not receive the same deal as Maria.
Maria does visit her, but other than that she didn't want to talk about her.
Goodwill, The Dismas House, The Ducomb Center, and the South Bend Re-Entry Center are just a handful of programs that work together to help ex-offenders make a successful re-entry into society.