“Do you have a minute?”
Beth waited at the door until Pastor Bob looked up and motioned her in. She had brought him a cup of coffee and a plate with two donuts.
“I thought you might like to try these. They're fresh from the kitchen.”
“Thank you, Bethany. That's very thoughtful of you.”
Good cooking had gone a long way towards softening Pastor Bob. Perhaps this would work. She waited as he tasted one of the donuts.
“These are excellent, Bethany. Our Lord has blessed you with many culinary skills.”
“Thank you. But the compliment should be for Judith. She made them.”
“Even more impressive, you have teaching talents as well.”
“Hopefully, I've taught her enough to takeover, when it's time for me to leave.”
Hardness returned to his face.
“There will be no talk of leaving, Bethany. You're not going anywhere.”
“I've enjoyed cooking and learning to manage the kitchen, Pastor Bob. But parole has different requirements. They agreed to employment here for one month. I still owe part of last month's parole fee. I'm expected to find a job and pay those fees. I need to begin saving as well. We both know that I'll have to leave eventually.”
“I understand your concerns, Bethany. But there is no need to leave. You have become a valuable asset to Redemption House and your skills should be compensated. Redemption House can continue to provide room and board. In addition, we'll pay your parole fee and provide you with $100 per month. I'll handle the parole office.”
“Thank you. I lack your experience with parole, but I'd understood that everyone must seek outside employment.”
“Everyone must seek it. Not everyone will find it. You were young when you went to prison. Had you ever held a job?”
“I had a part time cashiering position at Findlan's Grocery when I was in high school.”
“Not likely to get you a job in this economy. Many people with far more experience and clean records are looking for work. So follow parole's requirements. Attend their training sessions and do the job search. When that has failed, I'll make the offer to keep you employed here.”
“And if I get an offer?”
“I think that is highly unlikely.”
Pastor Bob gave her a nod and reached for the phone. Their talk was at an end. Beth knew she'd never get a job recommendation from him.
“You're getting to be one of my best customers.”
Cal Kaufman smiled at Beth as she perused the meat specials. She rarely missed the opportunity to check the day's markdowns.
“I'll probably be a permanent one, given my success at finding another job.”
She hated to admit it, but Pastor Bob had been right. Four mornings per week, Cassandra did the shopping while Beth joined twenty other parolees in a job search program. For six weeks she'd applied for the jobs on their list. These employers had indicated willingness to hire those with felony convictions. Tax incentives spurred some. Others struggled with a plethora of low pay positions that were difficult to fill. Parolees with a work history and specialized skills were hired first. Those with fewer skills looked longer, but eventually found minimum wage positions. Beth watched as drug dealers, thieves, sex offenders and white collar criminals found work. The group had dwindled to two. Both Beth and the remaining parolee had homicide charges.
"Have you applied for a position here?"
Cal's inquiry took Beth by surprise. She'd focused on the employment list provided by parole.
“No. As you know, I'm staying at Redemption House. Does Pinnacle Grocery hire those with convictions?”
“All the time. As long as you haven't been in trouble since release and weren't convicted of a violent crime."
Beth tried to find the right words. Cal looked at her face and didn't wait for a response.
“I'll put your selections aside back here. You can come back for them later. Meet me at the coffee shop next door in 15 minutes.”
Beth nodded and left without another word.
The futile job search had shaken her confidence. The pattern was always the same. Complete the application. Meet with a manager. Answer questions about job skills. Then the pause at the critical question: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” No one showed surprise at the checked box. Their employer was listed with parole. Some were encouraging, mentioning that her answer did not disqualify her. “What was the charge?” The manager would nod and quickly finish the interview. There are currently no jobs that match your skills. We'll certainly keep you in mind. Good luck with your search. The words varied, but the message was clear. No job offers would be forthcoming. She had known it wouldn't be easy, but never anticipated the shame. Prison was an equalizer. Everyone had been convicted of a crime. Interviews were different. She became a lesser person, as though a scarlet M had been placed on her forehead. With each rejection, she became more demoralized.
She entered the coffee shop and took a seat. She looked forward to seeing Cal when she shopped. He was handsome, personable and just two years older than herself. Their conversations had focused on daily specials, then gradually expanded to more personal exchanges. She had sensed Cal's interest in her. He'd want nothing to do with her now. Probably why he'd asked her to meet here. He'd wanted her out of the store and hadn't wanted to create a scene.
She didn't need to wait for another rejection. There were other grocers in the area. Perhaps they had similar buys. She waived away the waitress and headed for the door. She pushed the door. It didn't open. Pull. It opened quickly. Too late she realized that Cal was pushing from the other side. She teetered backwards and his arms stretched out to steady her. He didn't let go immediately. Beth felt her embarrassment replaced by another emotion.
“Were you trying to stand me up?”
“No, but you don't need to waste your time on me.”
“I don't consider it wasted, Beth. I see you as a person, not as a conviction. And I like what I see. I don't want to be judged by my crime, so I certainly wouldn't do that to you.”
He steered her towards a booth and ordered coffee. Beth began to calm and his words registered.
“I did two years for a drug crime. A foolish and costly mistake. I lost my job, my family and my pride. When I was released, I had to start over.“
“You have a great job now.“
“Yes. But I started as a stock boy. That's a job for teenagers, not a man nearing thirty.”
"It must have been difficult. But right now, I'd jump at a job like that.”
“I understand and I wish Pinnacle's policy were different. But I have an idea.”
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