A petition offered recently by an Academy Award-nominated actor is inviting Americans to re-examine the way we treat citizens with felony conviction records. Mark Wahlberg was 16 when he assaulted two Vietnamese men, trying to steal alcohol from them. Now he is asking the Governor of Massachusetts for a pardon in that case.
An estimated 24 million Americans have been convicted of a felony, or approximately one in ten people. Consequences of a felony conviction vary by state, but they are severe. In most cases, felons cannot serve in public office or serve on juries. Many will lose their right to vote; more than 5 million Americans are disenfranchised because of convictions.
A convicted felon’s employment opportunities are often severely restricted. They are usually required to disclose criminal histories to potential employers. They may lose professional licenses, or the right to ever obtain a professional license, and they cannot carry firearms.
Mark Walhberg has played soldiers and police officers in several of his movies, including Lone Survivor, The Departed, and Two Guns. Now, he hopes to become a reserve police officer in California, where he currently lives. First, however, his felony conviction must be voided.
In his petition, Wahlberg says:
(A pardon) would be a formal recognition that someone like me can receive official public redemption if he devotes himself to personal improvement and a life of good works. My hope is that, if I receive a pardon, troubled youths will see this as an inspiration and motivation that they too can turn their lives around and be formally accepted back into society.
If I were fortunate enough to receive a pardon, I would have the ability to become more active in law enforcement activities, including those that assist at-risk individuals.
Walhberg talked about his younger years in a 2009 interview with Britain’s Daily Mail:
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and I’ve done bad things. But I never blamed my upbringing for that. I never behaved like a victim so that I would have a convenient reason for victimizing others. Everything I did wrong was my own fault. I was taught the difference between right and wrong at an early age. I take full responsibility.
During that interview, Wahlberg explained how his parish priest helped him get back on the right path in life:
He was always there for me, through the good times and the bad. Back then there were more bad times than good. But he always had faith that I could change my ways. He was the first to recognize the actor in me.
Wahlberg refocused his attention on music and acting. As do 3 of every 10 Americans with a felony conviction, Wahlberg went on to live a productive life. It may be time to reconsider how we as a society can support people like Wahlberg, who have paid their debt to society, in returning to full status as productive citizens.