'I am more than my criminal record': New Calgary campaign looks beyond job seekers' pasts

The Calgary John Howard Society has launched a new public education initiative that aims to reduce stigma for job seekers with criminal records.

Finding employment during a downturn is extra challenging for people with criminal records

The Calgary John Howard Society launched a public education initiative — called “I Am More Than My Criminal Record” — earlier this month. It gives people with a criminal record a chance to share their stories, like Dan, pictured above. (Calgary John Howard Society)

A new campaign aims to reduce stigma for Calgarians with criminal records who are looking for jobs.

The Calgary John Howard Society launched a public education initiative called "I Am More Than My Criminal Record" earlier this month. 

"This campaign is about showcasing these individuals' lives and who they think they are and giving voice to them," said Cristina Amaro Benzaquen, employment partnership specialist at the society, to the Calgary Eyeopener.

Having a criminal record can be a barrier to employment, especially in Calgary's competitive job market.

"I remember one week in particular where I had a few employers hang up the phone on me. They were hiring, and I knew they were looking for candidates, and I had great candidates who met all the qualifications for the job. They didn't want to hear from me," Amaro Benzaquen said.

"There is this big stigma that comes attached to having a criminal record."

Gordon Sand, the executive director of the Calgary John Howard Society, hopes the campaign lets potential employers know people make mistakes, but they are more than those mistakes.

'I love my job'

Dan, who spoke to CBC News on the condition his surname not be disclosed, is one of the people who shared his story on the campaign's website.

Five years ago, on the same day his mother died, he found out his partner of 24 years had been cheating on him.

"I lost the two most important people in my life," he said.

That caused major depression, he said, and he turned to drinking and drugs. He ended up incarcerated and was homeless upon his release.

When Dan started searching for a job, he found it really tough because of his past.

He said he was let go from one job after his employer found out he had a criminal record.

"Just seeing that box on a [job] application just sends fear, shame, so many emotions," he said.

With the organization's help, Dan was able to get a job working in retail.

"I love my job. I couldn't be happier. It's given me something to get up for every morning," he said.

"I don't feel like I'm a burden anymore. I feel alive. I'm 11 out of 10 now. Life is good."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener