Former Criminal Needs College, Job Advice

Every once in a while I receive a question from someone for which there is no immediate answer.  Today I received a message from a young man who has done jail time, but who wants very much to get his life together.  I called him, and he seems quite sincere.  He gave me his permission to share the question with you.

My hope–and his– is that you will share your advice.  While I pride myself on delivering great college advice, sometimes I think collective wisdom can be more helpful.

Please take the time to read this and to comment.  He will be reading your responses and is eager for your advice.



Hi. Just to let you know, i really appreciate your website. I don’t have any else where to go to for advice on how or what i should do with my life. Here it goes though:

When I was younger, I had some problems dealing with drugs. I dropped out of high school in 10th grade. After that, my life just went downhill. I’ve been in jail. I’ve had 1 strike and about 5 felonies.. I regret everything.
As of now, I am currently 21 years old. I’m a changed man. I’m sober and is trying to get my life back on track. I’m trying to get my diploma at a local college called Rancho Santiago.

The thing is that, I’ve tried looking for jobs everywhere. They won’t accept me due to my history. I mean, how am I suppose to change my life around if I can’t even get a job to support myself and my parents? I feel like my life can’t progress.

Another thing is that I’m also trying to get into a college because my dream job is to become a mechanic one day. That’s my goal. I’ve tried getting into some colleges, mostly the ones that accept one without a diploma. Well, some have called me back.. Everything went well. They said that I could get in. But then, they asked me about my history.. When i told them, they said sorry and that i could’nt get in. I’m feeling hopeless. I can’t get a job or even apply for college..

I know i’ve done some bad life decisions. But I’m hoping, I’m really hoping that I can have a second chance to have a rewarding life. Can you please recommend me in to what I should do? Either in job or education wise? or possibly both? Thankyou.

Oh, and also that if I do get a chance to get into college, do you think that somewhere out there, I can get to be a mechanic? Thankyou very much in advance. I really hope that you would help me out in this one. I really do.

Thanks again.


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Published by Mark Montgomery

Mark is a leading educational consultant. His experience as a professor, college administrator, and youth mentor help him guide students from around the country and around the world.

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  1. I commend you for turning your life around– I’m sure it took a lot of courage.

    Although I’m not a college expert, I would recommend finding a cause that you are interested in and spending some of your free time volunteering. Perhaps you can find an organization that helps troubled youth. I hope you will find this to be a fulfilling experience.

    By volunteering, you can give back to the community, and prove that you are dedicated to a positive lifestyle. If you find an organization that you are passionate about, that passion will show as you discuss it with admissions offices.

  2. I believe in second chances and it certainly sounds like this young man should get one. I would advise him to go to community or tech college and get certified to be a mechanic. Hopefully through this, he will not only become a mechanic, but he will also forge new relationships and contacts. He may have to prove himself by taking on a few non-paying jobs, but this may payoff in him gaining someone’s trust. I also think he should find a mentor in his field. This could be done through whatever courses he takes or perhaps the Chamber of Commerce in the city where he lives.
    I wish him all the best.

  3. A colleague of mine just called with these thoughts:

    1. Do a resume and pound the pavement to all independent mechanics and autobody shops. Be prepared to sweep the floor, part time, for a long time to prove you are trustworthy and sincere.
    2. Look up the procedures for becoming ASE certified (; you don’t need any degree to get certified, but you do need to have experience.
    3. Connect with people, with the idea of developing mentors who are mechanics. You will need people on your side who will assist you in overcoming the burden of the criminal past.
    4. Consider a good lawyer who might, eventually, be able to help you soften your criminal past. Apparently there are ways to do this.

    I’ll be sharing more; people are responding.

  4. I too believe in second chance. If you have paid your dues then there should be no problem with getting a job or going to school. How do these institutions expect a person to continue on with their life when their past impedes that. I think that a persons record should be wipe clean considering certain circumstances.
    Good luck with everything.
    – Eric

  5. I’ve got two suggestions here.

    1. Ask for help [which you’ve already started on]. Be professional, but be shamelessly honest. Dress well and politely ask to speak with some repair shop owners – ask them what skills, certifications, etc. they value in new hires. Be up front with your history. Ask who they might know who is likely to work with a felon. You might be surprised at how many small business owners are sympathetic – they’re people, too. It isn’t unheard of to find a small business owner with a criminal past who’s comfortable helping others turn things around just as he has.

    2. Take one or two non-credit community college classes. Don’t worry about enrolling for a degree – just take the classes and take them seriously. People trying to turn their lives around, whether it’s a former criminal or a serial romantic cheater, are burdened by more words than actions. In short, take some classes to demonstrate your sincerity [and to keep your mind as active as possible – *everyone* should take classes regularly].

    A school will simply believe what you’re saying when you’ve got a transcript and a statement from a professor that says, yes, you’re just as serious about all this as you seem. You’ve got evidence of past indiscretions; you need some evidence that suggests future success. Completing a couple classes and getting your GED will testify for you.

    I don’t know what state/city you’re in, but have you flat-out asked your parole office for help with all this?

  6. I have a dear friend from the Cleveland who got into trouble with drugs in his late teens, was busted in a sting and served time. During his time in jail he turned his life around. When he was released, he attended a college in Chicago (Moody Bible Institute) under a special program and achieved his Bachelors last year. It was a long hard 4 years, but let’s face it…he had been through tougher times. He is now the Pastor of a Church in The Cincinnati Ohio area. He is a great guy and I’m sure he would be willing to talk to you and help in any way he is able. Click my name to link to my company website and you can contact me through there.

  7. I think your best bet would be to start with community college. Since you dropped out, get your GED first.

  8. If you’re a student at the Rancho Santiago in Santa Anna, CA I would make an appointment to meet with the career development center, the workforce training center, and the academic counseling center. Utilize the professional staff (this also includes your teachers) at your school to help you achieve your educational and professional goals. Don’t be shy about telling people what you’re hoping to accomplish – and if the person you’re speaking with can’t provide you with answers, ask that they recommend someone who might be able to help. Also, you may want to consider joining a professionally run support group (not everyone is comfortable with this sort of interaction, so it’s up to you). A group (like AA, NA…) can help you to stay the course with your clean and healthy lifestyle and potentially put you in contact with others who have traveled your road before and can give you advice and assistance. Best of luck with your endeavor, with consistent and persistent effort you will succeed. Laura

  9. true repentance and sincerity to your words am a changed man will help you and people will see you differntly and you never no you might get accepted just remember god is on your side pray and ask for forgiveness and the strength too cope withyour temporary unemplyment .there is purpose in everyones life.

  10. Here is my advise. College is not always the answer. I am in college and I am in school. I still don’t get any jobs. If you really want to become a mechanic try going to a shop and offer to learn for free. Develop experience and base other work around your training. A free worker, who would pass that up? Don’t come out and say you are a felon until you are asked.
    Be sincere, some people understand.

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