I have used this soapbox before to talk about contractors hiring ex-convicts. It hasn't seemed to strike a lot of nerves among readers. I'm not sure if you are in favor of doing it or are opposed to it.

Maybe you simply don't have an opinion.

On some of my contractor visits, I put the question to contractors - face-to-face - to get some type of reaction. On the whole, the results are mixed.

Some said they would hire an ex-convict to work in the shop or on an installation at a commercial project, where they would be supervised and less apt to walk off with tools or leave a bad impression with customers. Depending on the individual and the crime committed, some believe an ex-convict might be allowed to work in residential service.

Other people would not hire an ex-convict under any circumstances. Many say they would not trust an ex-convict to meet face-to-face with customers.

One problem many ex-convicts face is the inability to get a driver's license (depending on the crime and the jurisdiction). Because having a driver's license can be a prerequisite for job applicants, many contractors say they simply have no choice in the matter.

Exceptions To The Rule

I have been corresponding with an inmate for the past couple of years - a man who made a poor choice during an alcoholic episode and is paying for it with jail time and the loss of a big chunk of his life. He made a mistake, owned up to it, and vowed to make a better, law-abiding life for himself once he is released.

Troy Singer believes he has learned his lesson, and he is looking toward the future. He has made an effort to secure a career that will make him happy and self-sufficient. Singer wants to be a commercial refrigeration service tech. He has been taking classes and reading as much as he can on the field of refrigeration. (A letter from Singer appears in "Reader Mail" in this issue.)

Singer has also enlisted the help of another familiar face to readers of The News. John Tomczyk, a professor of HVACR at Ferris State University and a regular contributor to the "Refrigeration Zone" each month in The News, also corresponds with Singer, giving him hope for finding a job in the field once he becomes a free man.

Tomczyk answered a technical question for Singer and gave him his phone number to call him after his release - a nice gesture.

Singer wants to achieve NATE certification and become, in his own words, "a problem-solving HVACR professional and not just a parts changer." I am willing to bet there are some commercial refrigeration contractors who would like a service tech with that attitude.

I don't condone criminal activity, but I do endorse rehabilitation. I believe that there are many people, who, if given a second chance, will make the best of the opportunity.

That is especially true when the crime is against property versus a person.

I bet some of us might own up to a few acts of vandalism as youths. I used a can or two of spray paint on a building and can admit it now that the statute of limitations has expired.

Can't some of you remember when you made a mistake and your boss used it as a learning tool instead of a reason to fire you? Or when your parents turned a disciplinary problem into a lesson learned?

Sometimes you have to lead with your heart instead of your head. You were given a second chance - why not a person like Troy Singer?

John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-786-1390 (fax), or johnhall@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 01/10/2005