Many feelings have been cycling through me as I process recent news I have received. I would be lying if I did not say there is an element of anger that they let me spend the months and time going through the process of licensing when I was up front with the agency about my record from the start. Before I started any of the classes, or decided on my move to Kansas, sold my condo in Seattle, or bought a house in Kansas, I started by disclosing my past and filling out background check paperwork. As I moved forward I understood everything to have been reviewed and approved.

However, the oversight occurred, the reality is that they had not gotten final approval from the state. When I talked to the state I received the impression that it is not common for someone who actually has my record to apply and go through the licensing process. They made assumptions based on their interactions with me and their unconscious bias assumed that someone who looks, acts and speaks like me could not possibly be “one of them”.

Unconscious bias has been a hot topic recently, and I am glad that as a society it appears that we are beginning to understand the impacts of these unconscious ways that we hold down whole groups of people because of our beliefs, experiences and stereotypes about them.

I am a violent felon. Until the day I die I will wear this label that has fairly or unfairly been placed on me by our legal system. This conviction, whether or not is has any relationship with what actually happened in the handful of minutes where the event occurred, will forever be a brand seared upon me. What I have also come to realize over the past decade is how rare it is that someone comes from the place where I was, to the place where I am today.

When the agency I was working with heard my background they probably based their response to me on previous experiences they have had. The tragic reality I have come to learn is that the majority of people who reach the depth that I did, and end up with the record that I have, do not end up where I am today. People with the mental health and addiction past like me are the ones who are often shot by the police and that we read about in the countless news stories nearly identical to mine that I have read over the years.

People like me who wind up in prostitution do not often manage to eventually find the mental health treatment, and support from friends and family that I have had in getting me out of a life that leads many to death through murder, drugs or suicide.

People like me who have public defenders, and do not have the money to buy their way through the legal system and find themselves coerced into pleading out to felony charges that will follow them the rest of their lives do not often also come from families where they had the education, support and skills to navigate and fight their way through the system and graduate from college. They often do not have the same access to help that I had in getting back on my feet and starting over.

While I know there are people like myself out there, I have honestly never met one of them. I have read a few books by people with stories even more extreme than my own, but never have i encountered another person who has my past who is also where I am now. I do not say this because I have done anything special, or because I am anything special, but because I understand that I also carry white, middle class privilege that makes many people make assumptions about me and overlook things they would not were my skin a different color, if I had not had the security of my relatively stable and safe middle class upbringing, or good education that taught me how to speak and act in the middle class ways that me able to hide behind a mask that makes me look “normal, comfortable, safe”.

I am where I am largely in part because I find myself in the group where unconscious bias works in my favor. The people who I worked with in the foster care agencies made assumptions that it is so easy to make. It reminds me of my own unconscious biases and the ways that I assume things about people, or judge people based on factors that I do not even realize I making judgements upon.

Unconscious bias is a real thing that we often do not recognize until we are faced with it in our own lives. I know that I certainly have many areas where I still do not see my own biases, but I am trying to use opportunities like this to learn about them in myself and be a force for change. I am trying to look at this situation and not focus on my anger that they should have run my background check sooner, but to understand why they did not, and to try and push for the changes that help us have better understanding of the unconscious bias that we all carry.

I know many people do not understand my passion for social justice, the reasons that I constantly post and push on these issues. I know that they often do not understand my intensity and my desire to discuss and fight for change regarding these issues. But the fact I am still alive and in the place I am today make me feel a huge sense of responsibility to live my life advocating for change. “To whom much is given, much is required,” and I have been given far more than I can begin to repay.

While my heart is still hurting and I am still processing, I also feel the fire that burns beneath me being fueled towards the next step. I do not know that that step looks like. I do not know what door is opening, as the one I had been walking towards is closing, but I am steadily preparing myself for what is next and trying to stay open to new opportunities.

Life is short and I want to make all of the moments count. I do not know why I am alive when others are not. I do not know why I am ok and others are still suffering. I do not know why the fact that life is not fair has fallen in my favor. But I know that I can choose to take all those gifts and try to use them to walk alongside others and advocate for those who have not received the gifts I have been given. I will not waste my time being angry about why the foster care agency put me in the position of being let down in this way, but instead use that time to try and find ways to make sure that children do not miss out on good homes because of black and white rules and unconscious bias that lead state agencies to deny qualified and passionate potential foster parents. I have to be the change that I seek!