Robert Stanelle


It is always interesting to me how we, as Americans, like to speak about our humanity, about how we believe in giving others a second chance. On all levels, individual, government, employers and family, we like to speak about it. Except for certain family members though we simply do not practice what we preach. This was brought back to life for me recently in a conversation with someone I will call Joe, but that is not his real name.

Joe was what most people would call an upstanding citizen of the community for many years. College educated, steady professional-level job, homeowner, youth athletic coach, wife, two kids and a dog. Lived in a country-club community, held a family golf membership, and came home with his paycheck to that wife and kids, not cheating any one of them in any way except perhaps by sometimes working too many hours as many of us do. Also, like most of us, Joe had little savings due to his family obligations and providing the best for them. Savings would come later, when the family was grown and each on their own. All told, a good quality American life.

Than about 10-12 years ago the bottom fell out of Joe’s life. Both kids were in college at the time, a senior and a sophomore. First, his job disappeared as his industry suffered severe “reductions in force,” or RIF’s in human resource jargon. He had been with that employer for over fifteen years. Looking for a new position was very difficult because Joe was now in his upper forties, forced to suffer the ongoing age discrimination that government and employers like to pretend doesn’t exist because it is supposedly illegal. Everyone over 50 knows better.

Then, sitting one Sunday in their living room, Joe’s wife announced to him that she had rented an apartment and was moving out that coming weekend! Joe’s response was one of complete surprise. They had been married for twenty-five years. Making a long story as short as possible, they had been planning life and their future on their two incomes. When you plan life on two incomes and one unexpectedly disappears, you get BIG problems and very quickly. When, in the past, a tenant moved out of a rental home they owned, no problem as two incomes could temporarily cover the loss of rent and still make the payment on the property. Now she left, taking her income with her, and Joe couldn’t do it alone. A second property they owned became vacant. Before you could say “lickety-split,” Joe is several payments behind on several properties and borrowing on his credit cards to try to keep from losing everything.

Why was Joe able to borrow on his credit cards? Because he had such a “perfect” credit record for some thirty years that his credit line kept being increased automatically, though he never asked for such. A bad real estate market at the time, age discrimination and no salaried employment, nothing left in the bank, and the snowball of financial debt gets real big, real fast. Joe went from a net worth of 250K prior to the divorce and job loss to (110K) in a space of less than two years. Bankruptcy became his only option and he lost everything he had left, which wasn’t much since he had been selling furniture and personal items at garage sales just to eat.

Joe was essentially penniless. Joe had done nothing but been a decent upstanding guy all his life and now he was an unemployed fifty-year old man, living in a dumpy two-room rented cabin, and basically owning only his car, a mattress and a few personal belongings.

But hey! Joe’s a tough guy! He decides to go back to school, gets an offer of a graduate assistantship from a major university and does so. He arrives at the university with $11.37 in his pocket, an old truck with over 200,000 miles on the odometer, an old computer and his few personal items. Despite this - in a space of only four years - he completes a Masters and a Doctorate! Sounds great, right? Wrong you are. Here is what life is like in our second chance myth society:

No job – nobody will hire a guy in his mid-fifties despite an outstanding work record for 25 years and experience far beyond any much younger person. His education matters not a twit – his experience matters not a twit – his age does. No second chances for those of us over fifty. He is working to eat, but in a position far below his skills and qualifications.

No credit cards – despite the fact that this man has gone back to school and turned his life around, he can’t obtain a credit card because his computer formula “score” does not meet the requirements.

No house – Even though he has saved a 15% down payment toward what would be a small house, Joe has no chance of ever buying a home again because, again, his credit “score” doesn’t cut it.

Dating? A new relationship? – Well, what woman do you know interested in an older man with the life described.

Now, imagine if he had been prison. Imagine if he was a young high school graduate who had made a mistake at one time: a petty crime, a marijuana experiment, a drinking incident, or kicked out of college for fighting after a few beers. We don’t forgive. Second chances are a myth. Our so-called Christian, church-going, nose-in-the-air, I’m better than you populace doesn’t forgive. We condemn. Our prisons don’t reform anybody. Our employers don’t hire anyone who has a “record,” though it only takes one mistake to make a “record.” Am I going to tell you there are no bad people? Of course not. There are bad people. But most of us just make a mistake or two in our lives, we should not have to suffer for that forever.

Look even at an athlete like Sammy Sosa. He had one corked bat out of 78 bats and there were a good number of people ready to condemn him for eternity. No second chance for even Sammy.

At any level, a person deserves a second chance. Once you are down in this country, much of society will step on your neck to keep you down. Then we wonder why the individual gets discouraged, gives up on life, and turns to whatever is necessary to survive. You see, it is a long trip from the outhouse to the penthouse and, has Joe learned, it’s a short trip back down. It can happen to any of us. Don’t be so quick to judge and condemn others. Give your brother or sister in humanity a helping hand. Lend them money interest free. You can afford it. Interest is what makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. Whatever your religious beliefs (or non-beliefs), you will likely meet your maker one day. What will you say to your version of the almighty?

Do good things. It will make you a better person. It will make us a better society. Until we all step forward and do the right thing for others, well, ……………………