Missourians with felony convictions are no longer blocked from working in places that sell lottery tickets, and face less restriction in working where alcohol is sold, under a law that took effect over the summer. Advocates say the change is a “game changer” for people who get out of prison and want to get their lives back on track.
Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) sponsored the legislation for several sessions. It became law as a provision in Senate Bill 26, signed into law in July. She recently got to talk to some people who are taking advantage of the change.
One man with whom Toalson Reisch met was Henry Mikel of Columbia, who says it’s making a difference in his life.
“It’s very hard to get a job, man, when you’re a felon, so it’s going to help out a lot for the people that do want to change when they do get out of prison, or the people that are on probation that has committed a felony,” said Mikel.
Mikel is open about his past, which includes a 2nd degree assault charge, and that he is recovering from drug addiction. He is staying at in2Action, a program that helps those released from prison transition back into life and stay out of prison. He recently began working at a convenience store close to the facility. It’s a job he couldn’t have gotten just a few months ago because the store sells lottery tickets.
He thinks the new law is making a big difference for him, and will do so for others in similar circumstances.
He became emotional in expressing gratitude that the law passed. He said with the holidays approaching it will allow him to do something for his two young adult children.
“I’ll tell you, to have a job and be able to do something for my kids, man, it’s a blessing. Being a drug addict and an alcoholic most of my life, my kids missed out on a lot, man, and I feel like a big piece of s**t over that. Now that I’ve turned my life around, I have a relationship with my kids, I can call my kids, I can go see my kids any time. It does help out a lot, man. It helps out a lot.”
Mikel expressed thanks not only to Representative Toalson Reisch, but to all the legislators who voted for her proposal, and to Governor Mike Parson (R) for signing it into law.
“Being an addict I can tell you one thing … not everybody wants to be an addict. Once you become an addict … the main thing that goes through an addict’s head is, ‘How can I change?’” Mikel said. “I understand that a person has to want to change, truly, and they have to show it, but it’s hard to show it when you don’t have people that wants to back it up, and it’s nice to know that there are people out there that are giving people a chance and that wants to help people that want to help their self.”
Some would dismiss or even look down on a job such as working at a convenience store, but advocates agree it is a big deal for someone in a position like Mikel’s. He adds that he genuinely enjoys working there, and even as a child he thought it could be a fun job.
“You see just different personalities. I’m the type of guy that I want to help a lot of people. I want to help the people that are weak and the people that are addicts, I want to help people in their faith, so I believe this job’s going to help me in my dream because it helps me read people and it helps me figure people out more. I’m using it to my advantage.”
Toalson Reisch had the opportunity to meet Mikel for the first time just a few days ago, at an in2Action Christmas Dinner.
“We just hit it off, and he thanked me for giving him the opportunity. He loves his job,” said Toalson Reisch. “When I see these success stories, like Henry, that it’s making a real impact on real people in their lives, it just gives me hope.”
The last time Toalson Reisch’s proposal came to a vote on the House floor the vote in favor of it was 148-1.
Earlier story: New Law a ‘game changer’ for some felons seeking work