There are, of course, two sides to the story.
The government's side is simple enough: the man lied on an employment form--lied about a significant episode in his life. The authorities found out, and they let him go.
Here's the other side. A 16-year-old kid committed a terrible crime in which people were hurt. He was convicted, spent six years locked up and then, at age 23, was assigned to a halfway house.
From there, he found work in a print shop, where he learned to be a bookbinder, a skill he pursued until last month, when the government fired him from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. By then, the 16-year-old kid had become a 37-year-old man: solid, hard-working, clean.
He kept that first bookbinder's job for four years before moving to a new employer. He stayed with that second job until just before the company went out of business last June. Then he was hired as a temporary at the bureau.
"Actually my job title is something of a misnomer," he says. "I operate a guillotine cutter, cutting U.S. currency, trimming it to specifications, that sort of thing, before it's taken to another department for serial numbers and distribution. Yes, I guess it would be possible to steal, but it's not a temptation the way you might think. After the initial shock of seeing so much currency, you become very blas,e about it. It's just paper--unless your intention is to do something wrong."
That, he says with some feeling, was not his intention. He said he has been almost fanatical about not doing something wrong since his release some 14 years ago. "I've worked hard at every job I've had. It has been important to me to demonstrate to my supervisors and my co-workers that they can have confidence in me. Just a couple of months ago, I was commended (orally) for discovering a defect in a batch of 20s that prevented the release of 21 skids (10,000 sheets of 32 bills each). From last summer until I was let go, I did not miss any time on my last job. None. In fact, during one stretch from July to about October, I had only two days off--Independence Day and the day before Independence Day. I met all my production quotas. You see, I was a temporary, and I wanted to impress my supervisors that I deserved to be made permanent."
He is convinced he was about to make it. "I'm told they were going to hire 16 men for permanent jobs. There were only 16 temporaries, and 14 of them had less seniority than I."
He didn't get the permanent job. What he got was his walking papers.
When he first applied for the government job, the application form asked whether he had been arrested or convicted since his 18th birthday. He hadn't, and said so.
Later, after he was already on the job, he was asked to fill out another form, a sort of character check, in which he was asked the same question, "only this time they dropped the age a couple of years, from 18 to 16. I answered no."
That's what cost him his job. Falsification of records, they said. He said it was his belief that he didn't have to answer the question, since the courts have held that juvenile records may not be considered in determining fitness for government employment. But he did answer the question and, he acknowledges, answered it falsely.
"It just seemed unfair for me to go the rest of my life being affected by something that happened when I was 16," he said.
"I've worked hard trying to straighten out my life. I'm trying to be a decent citizen and a good father to my daughter (he and his wife are separated, and his daughter lives with him.) My only contact with the police in any form was a parking ticket I got down near the bureau. I've been striving to be trusted as a human being who is a social animal, trying to do everything according to the social norms.
"I like the feeling of being true csted, and I believe people trust me. I'm not a maverick, but I want to fight this thing. Even if they have a legal basis for what they did, morally it stinks."
He should have told the truth, of course. And maybe he'd still be working if he had. Still, it's sad to see this one lapse undo the painstaking rebuilding of a life that got off to such an unlikely start.
Maybe civil service law isn't on his side, but is it too much to hope that someone in the bureau's management might decide to exercise a little discretion, let this man correct his personnel record and put him back to work?