As a prison consultant, I often receive calls to prepare scared and frustrated people who are on their way into a place I wish no one would ever have to go. That place is the prison system. However, it’s rare that I get calls from exasperated felons who have changed their lives and the lives of others for the better. Particularly former inmates those who have been out of prison for more than twenty years. What was equally strange is that this person chose not to remain anonymous.
It was an interesting conversation with a gentleman from New Jersey who is suffering from Draconian expungement laws in the state of New Jersey under Chris Christie. His name is Gary Meyer and he has done everything humanly possible since his release from prison in 1994. He received a second degree felony. His drug possession was not to get high, buy a fancy car or luxurious homes. He chose to sell drugs in order to fuel his gambling addiction and has never shied away from sharing that dark moment in his life.
What he did after serving time for this crime is nothing short of remarkable whether you view it from the perspective of society’s view of a formerly incarcerated individual or the expectations a newly released person sets for himself. He has consistently attended Gamblers Anonymous since his release from prison in 1994. He gives a synopsis of his story in this must-see video: https://youtu.be/ApcBFyfkUmU.
The exodus from prison has and will always have a unique set of circumstances and Gary’s was no different. He was alone with no one willing to rent him an apartment, hire him or provide financial resources to make ends meet. As a prison consultant, I encourage everyone released from prison to legally grind their way to the top by any means necessary. Some fail by succumbing to peer pressure, blaming family hardships or accusing potential employers of discrimination or believing that the world would someway feel pity and give them a handout. Not Gary, he immediately began to scratch and claw his way out of the stigma of an ex-con and transform himself into a successful businessman, husband, role model and college graduate who can now speak 5 languages.
We discussed some interesting statistics regarding recidivism in New Jersey. Approximately 53.1% of New Jersey inmates are rearrested, 38% reconvicted and 32.4% are reincarcerated. Recidivism statistics do not reflect whether those who returned to prison were originally convicted of a first, second or third degree offense.
As a prison consultant, the least of my worries are having my convictions expunged. They are the cherished credential on which my company is based along with the rest of the prison coaches and consultants popping up each day around the country.
Gary and I fervently agree there is a fundamental bias in New Jersey laws regarding expungement of records. The State of New Jersey says “convictions for third degree crimes involving sale or distribution of possession with intent to sell a controlled dangerous substance may be expunged where the court finds expungement is in the public interest, considering the nature of the offense and the character and conduct of the petitioner since the conviction. In such cases, the court must also consider whether the need for availability of the records outweighs the desirability of granting the expungement.”
“Gary has been a business owner since 1996, has no rearrests, paid his way and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a double major from the Wharton School University of Pennsylvania (12% acceptance rate/Stanford University has a 14% rate) after prison, is a past member of the Board of Trustee, previously served as Chair of Intergroup for Gamblers Anonymous, volunteered as a finance and marketing director for a local animal shelter, foster parent for animals and even runs his own cat colony. He is a Kentucky Colonel, church member and even purchased bullet proof vests for a police department in Thailand with his own money to help the Police and has the support of many in New Jersey law enforcement'”
Failure to get his 23 year old conviction expunged prohibits Gary from traveling out of the country for more than 30 days or legally conducting business internationally. His wife is a native of Thailand. Her parents are both deceased. She was left property which they would love to build a home on when he retires however the inability to expunge the 1994 conviction prohibits Gary from obtaining a visa that would enable him to travel out of the country for more than 30 days.
Governor Christie has talked a good game about easing penalties on non-violent drug offenders. Gary is proof positive that society as a whole can be rewarded with this humane approach. Maybe it’s time Governor Christie put his pen where his mouth is and pardon Gary. After all, the pardon has been sitting on his desk for nearly a year? New Jersey natives have watched Governor Christie’s videos that preach justice and humanity for non-violent offenders. Please. Stand by your words and Pardon Gary E. Meyer.
Gary’s story and experiences underscore my point regarding recidivism in my September blog.
I listened to Gary then called several people who verified his selfless acts for people and animals. I must say, I hung up the phone quite impressed.
I attached a link showing the support Gary is getting from those who know him and those learning about his contributions to his communities throughout the country but also internationally. Please consider signing the petition so that New Jersey can end the biased draconian law regarding second degree felonies. Gary is one of many who deserve an opportunity to enjoy their life without being crippled mentally, socially or economically. https://www.change.org/p/gov-christie-give-this-ex-offender-a-second-chance-grant-my-pardon