Photo by black_eyes on Flickr.

At age 59, Calvin Moore has job certifications several inches thick — driving, telecommunications, tires, Department of Transportation, etc. You name it; odds are Calvin knows how to do it.

If you’ve seen a patched pothole in Virginia or DC, there’s a good chance Calvin filled it. Yet Calvin has been out of work for almost two years. In fact, Calvin has had a lot of intermittent work experiences during his life.

"I’m like a plane trying to take off. Up a little bit and scooter back down. Up a little bit and scooter back down,” he says.

His current unemployment isn’t for lack of trying either. He notes that he’s applied for “over 42 jobs and was turned down for all of them.” For Calvin, work has been difficult to get because of health problems and a decades-old criminal record.

Most recently, Calvin was a foreman and fleet manager at a tire warehouse, moved on, got his CDL, and applied at another tire company where he tore his meniscus in his left knee. A tire shipment had arrived and Calvin was helping unload tires off a truck. The driver was in a hurry because they had several other deliveries to make. As Calvin tells it, “I had to chase a few tires down that rolled off the palette. I ran laterally and stepped through the palette and tore up my knee.” The knee didn’t heal right after surgery.

Then Calvin got in a car accident this past February. “I was rear ended and couldn’t accept work because of an injured back as a result of the accident.”

He worked the tire job after suffering health problems while filling potholes on a road construction crew. “I got asthma due to the asphalt fumes while working for the DDOT. I kept getting sick, weak to the point that I couldn’t pick up the shovel with the asphalt.” They fired him within a few weeks of the end of his one-year probationary period.

"I really do enjoy seeing the potholes along the roads that I had fixed down in Virginia and throughout the District.”

The biggest obstacle for Calvin, however, has been his old criminal record. As a kid, Calvin was attracted to the fast life. “I was fascinated by the young guys driving Cadillacs, going to dances with alligator shoes, getting girls.” He wanted that life, so as an adolescent, “I went wild.”

"I didn’t have to go that route. I had good parents. I had a job. I wouldn’t tell my friends I had a job, but I would go out at night and then go to work the next morning.”

His lifestyle caught up with him when he was arrested for armed robbery in 1973. Calvin maintains his innocence for this particular crime, saying he was fingered mistakenly and happened to fit the profile after cutting his hair shorter from an Afro in between the crime and his arrest. Nevertheless, he does acknowledge that he was engaged in other petty crime at the time.

Calvin served three and a half years in prison and six and a half on parole. He started to turn his life around while incarcerated, getting his GED, taking college classes and getting married. He saved a guard’s life whose patrol vehicle turned over.

"After getting out of prison I went to work for an insurance company, but I didn’t complete the training because the bills were catching up. I went to waterproofing and then job after job after job. I built experience to put myself in a position where I was more versatile and more marketable.”

The 1980s ended up being a tough time for Calvin. “I started self-medicating when things weren’t going so well. I did petty theft stuff and was working intermittently at the time.”

Calvin has long since put those days behind him. He established himself as a law-abiding citizen and has been so for the past twenty years or more. “I did a lot of legwork that rebuts the arrests, but not the armed robbery conviction. It’s the worst thing on my record. I did ten years that I can’t get back.”

Yet finding jobs has always been tough due to his past. “I’ve been paid eight dollars and hour, ten dollars an hour at companies well below my worth.” He was denied a hazmat CDL because of his record. His current prolonged unemployment has been the worst.

"I was written off before I got a chance to put my foot in the door. I wouldn’t hire me based on my record. The employer is responsible for a safe workplace. But companies dig deep into criminal history and don’t think that people change. I am serving a life sentence.”

Calvin’s only current income comes from unemployment and SSDI. “There’s no meeting basic needs on that. The budget needs to be well-planned. You can’t go outside the box. You need a cushion for things like car and transportation problems and medications. I did receive food stamps, but I can’t get SSDI and food stamps at the same time. I found out how important receiving food stamps really is. I’ve had to move in with my niece and together we take care of what we can.”

Things are starting to look up for Calvin. He’s become a WAGE (Workers Advocating for Greater Equality) advocate at the DC Employment Justice Center, and recently testified about his struggles before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. The purpose of WAGE is to educate workers about employment law matters, provide advocacy and media skills, and help them identify and get involved in broad-based campaigns. He’s going to vocational rehab now through Catholic Charities to become a certified addiction counselor and has some new prospects for employment.

"I want to help people avoid taking the route in life that I have. It’s been a hell of a life.”

Cross-posted from Defeat Poverty DC.

Tagged: poverty

Max Brauer is an intern for the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and the Defeat Poverty DC Campaign. He is currently a JD/MPP candidate at the University of Maryland, and graduated from Grinnell College in 2007 with a B.A. in Political Science/History. Before returning to graduate school, Max taught Adult Basic Education/GED at the Academy of Hope in Northeast DC’s Edgewood neighborhood.