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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Guest Column: College finally gave me the direction I needed

This guest column is in response to The Western Front’s article “Behind the systems: Western’s admissions policies leave doors open for felons.”

As a convicted felon and current student at Western with over five years of sobriety, I was disappointed to read this poorly-framed first article of a four-part series.

Is leaving the door open for felons good or bad? That’s what I asked myself after reading the headline. It sounded encouraging at first – felons seeking education to turn their lives around and start a new chapter. But after reading the story it became clear that DeShaun Troy Dowdy was being used as the archetypal felon Western is admitting.

Dowdy is not representative of the average felon. Drug offenses make up 45.4% of felony convictions in the U.S., while sex offenses account for 9.9%, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

To frame Dowdy as the poster child for the type of felon Western is opening its doors for is careless, harmful and promotes the stigma that felons are dangerous people.

Illustration by Julia Berkman

I was convicted of theft of a firearm in 2010, a non-violent class B felony, which was the result of a 12-year drug addiction. I paid for my crime with six months in jail, nine months at in-patient treatment facilities, three years of Department of Corrections supervision and two years of out-patient treatment. I still pay for it when I submit a job or rental application – and when I applied to Western in 2016. I committed the crime and I accept the responsibility and consequences of my decisions.

However, I am not the same person I was when I committed my crime nine years ago. I am now a senior journalism student, a sports reporter for the Lynden Tribune and, most importantly, I’m someone who has overcome a merciless cycle of crime and drugs so that I can live a normal life.

I have spoken with classes at Western to share my past drug and criminal history. People have approached me afterwards who said they were reluctant to share their past with others, for fear of being judged. It made me wonder how many others are walking through campus, people who are just trying to get their lives on track but are afraid of being judged for the person they used to be.

Missing is the voice of a single felon – one of the largest stakeholders in the story. Why do we not get a voice in a story that has our label in the headline?

College literally saved my life. I decided to take a huge leap and enroll when I was in my first year of sobriety and fresh out of an Oxford House – a halfway house for recovering addicts.

After years of relapsing, college finally gave me the direction I needed to get back on my feet – and a goal. I can’t say with certainty if I would be clean and sober today – or even alive – if I hadn’t been admitted into college.

Thank you, Western Washington University and Peninsula College for opening your doors to this felon.

-Eric Trent, Journalism Student


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