Out in the Open

'I didn't tell anybody': Why a respected social worker hid her criminal past

A marijuana conviction as a teen left Frances Cappe with a criminal record and a big problem. If she disclosed her secret, that one mistake would have altered the course of her entire life, which turned out to be one filled with helping others, especially troubled teens.
(Ashton Doyle)

In the mid-1960s, near Huntsville, Ontario, 16-year-old Frances Cappe was caught in an RCMP sting. It was her day off from her job as a camp counsellor. She was meeting some friends near the camp when a number of officers, disguised as anglers, threw down their rods and busted the teens for having an ounce of pot. Frances was handcuffed, taken to jail, and ultimately convicted for possession.

The experience was traumatic. Her name was all over the news; her boyfriend left her, as did friends. And Frances was left with a criminal record. 
Frances Cappe shortly after her arrest. (Courtesy of Frances Cappe)

So she just moved on. Frances went to a new city, a new school and started fresh, leaving this part of her history behind in a way that wouldn't be possible today by simply never disclosing.

Frances did well and launched a career as a social worker. Over the years, she has worked for various children's aid societies and was trusted in many positions of power, running group homes and the like. Given her own experiences, she was especially able to empathize with teens who were in trouble.

No one knew about her criminal past for decades, until the law changed and Frances was required to fill out a mandatory criminal record check at work. A few months after filling out the form, she was called into her boss's office.

"I was prepared for whatever and I looked at her and she said 'Our one question is, did you inhale?' So I exhaled, looked her in the eye and said 'Indeed I did! I did inhale!'...I think she handed me three new files and said get back to work."

This story originally aired on November 19, 2017. It appears in the Out in the Open episode "Rewriting History".