Getting Past the Past When You’re a Woman with a Record

Small Group Study / Produced by TOW Project

This lesson was piloted in April 2017 by Southern California Teen Challenge, in a program for women rehabilitating from drug addiction, prison, and prostitution. To see all lessons, go to the Women's Prison Curriculum Table of Contents.

Discussion Question: What scares you most about looking for a job?

Looking for a job has special challenges when you’re a woman with a criminal record. Employers can be afraid to hire someone with a record. For Christians, this is especially frustrating. Jesus forgave you of everything in your past, just like he forgave the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11). Jesus set you free to live a new kind of future, just like he told that woman, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (John 8:11). And yet, the paper trail that follows you makes it complicated. Should you be upfront about your history? Or hide it as best you can? This is difficult moral question.

Jesus realized that difficult questions come up all the time. In fact, he warned his followers that going into the world as Christians would be difficult.

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
(Matthew 10:16)

When you wonder what to say about your criminal record, you may feel a tension between being wise and being innocent. People who think a lot about ethics have suggested a way to think through tough moral questions like this one. You can remember the method using three Cs: Commandments, Consequences, and Character.

Commandments: What commandments apply to this situation?

Consequences: What are the consequences of each course of action?

Character: How does each action reflect on the type of person I want to be?

Let’s use the three Cs to work through this question: What do you say to a potential employer about your criminal past? And when do you say it?

First think of any commandments that relate to this situation. Many Bible verses stress telling the truth, such as Leviticus 19:11 which says “You shall not lie to one another.” However, when truth telling conflicts with doing something else that is right, the commandment doesn’t apply. Many Bible heroes do the right thing by misleading someone else, like the heroic Hebrew midwives who lie to save baby boys (Exodus 1:15-21).

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.
(Exodus 1:15-21)

Other examples are Moses who tells Pharaoh the Hebrews are only going into the desert for a brief festival (Exodus 5:1), or David who lies several times to preserve his own life (1 Samuel 21:1-3, 12-15). To sum up, you’re commanded to tell the truth, but with exceptions to do good for yourself and others.

Next think of the consequences of any action. If you reveal on a resume that you have a criminal record, you might not get an interview. However, if the interviewer asks you about past convictions and you don’t fess up, you’ll face bigger problems when a background check comes in.

Lastly, think about how your actions might reflect on your character. What type of person do you want to be? How do you want others to see you?

Discussion Question: How do you think commandments, consequences, and character apply to talking about your criminal record on your resume or in an interview?

Job search experts give these tips for being both wise and innocent when writing resumes and interviewing for jobs.

  • Don’t reference your criminal background on a resume. The purpose of a resume is to get you a job interview. Criminal history is best revealed in an interview, when you can put a positive spin on what you’ve learned from your experience.
  • If a job application asks about a conviction record, you can’t lie. But you can choose to explain yourself later. In the section that asks you for details on past convictions, you can write “will explain in interview.”
  • If you did any work or education in prison, you can put this on your resume. Use the name of the facility as the employer, and write any key skills you learned. Or, if your experiences in prison are unrelated to the job you’re applying for, you can leave them off your resume.
  • When you explain your criminal record in an interview, be brief and focus on the positive: what you learned from your experience and how it will make you a good fit for the job.

Discussion Question: What did you learn from your past experience that makes you the best person for a job?