Chicago, the city of second chances

Would you give a job to an ex-convict? I might, but it really depends on the crime. If he had stolen a six-packFelske
of beer, I’d probably hire him, but only after I got a lock for my refrigerator. (I wouldn’t want him to get hold of my wife’s Heinekens.) If he had done something terrible, like molest a child, the only job I’d be willing to give him is a nose job. (No, it wouldn’t be an improvement.)

The city of Chicago is more forgiving than I could ever be. More considerate. More understanding. More stupid.

When he applied for a part-time job as a truck driver for the city of Chicago, Jerome Felske admitted he had a criminal past.

He acknowledged having six criminal convictions — one burglary and five thefts.

He got the job anyway.

At the time, three years ago, City Hall had an unwritten policy
against hiring ex-cons. But Felske had clout: He was helping register
voters for the Hispanic Democratic Organization, then a powerful
patronage army delivering votes for Mayor Daley.

Felske soon worked up to a full-time trucking job with the Department of Streets and Sanitation. [Link]

One burglary and five thefts. On his resumé, did he list them under "work experience"? Or did he put them under "hobbies and interests"?

Then, last January, he was fired. It wasn’t because he’d been a thief.
It was because the city inspector general found Felske had been more of
a thief than he’d admitted on his job application: Felske had been
convicted 22 times going back to the 1960s, not just the six
convictions he owned up to. City officials called it "fraud." [Link]

Twenty-two times! With that kind of experience, why did the city let him go?

It was a mistake, of course. And they soon realized it.

But two months ago fortune again smiled on Felske: He got his job back.

Firing was too harsh a punishment, the city’s Human Resources Board
ruled, finding that the city’s lawyers couldn’t prove Felske
intentionally left out the other 16 criminal convictions.

Felske, 64, didn’t lie about his past, his lawyer, Joseph Spingola,
successfully argued; he just didn’t remember every last crime.

"I challenge anybody that is here today to try to recall their
grocery list from only two weeks ago," Spingola, a former chairman of
the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals under Daley, told the board.
"Essentially, he is being punished here for not having the best memory
of anybody around.” [Link]

I don’t remember my grocery list from two weeks ago either. Do you think I could use that as an excuse for not remembering my anniversary?

Are we really expected to believe that he forgot 16 of his 22 convictions? And if he has such a faulty memory, do we really want him driving a city truck?

Defense attorney: "Mr. Felske, please tell the court why you went through the red light and caused the accident."

Felske: "Uh … well … I forgot what ‘red’ means."

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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