PROVIDENCE, R.I. — He had spent 17 of his 46 years behind bars, locked in a pattern of addiction and crime that led to 16 prison terms. Now, Meko Lincoln pushed a cart of cleaning supplies at the reentry house to which he had been paroled in December, determined to provide for his grandchildren in a way he failed to do as a father.
“Keep on movin’, don’t stop,” Lincoln sang, grooving to the British R&B group Soul II Soul on his headphones as he emptied trash cans and scrubbed toilets at Amos House. He passed a bulletin board plastered with hiring notices — a line cook, a warehouse worker, a landscaper — all good jobs for someone with a felony record, but not enough for him.
Lincoln, who is training to be a drug and alcohol counselor, wants those lost years to count for something more.
“I lived it,” he said. “I understand it. My past is not a liability. It’s an asset. I can help another person save their life.”
Yet because regulations in Rhode Island and most other states exclude people with criminal backgrounds from many jobs, Lincoln’s record, which includes sentences for robbery and assault, may well be held against him.
Across the country, more than 10,000 regulations restrict people with criminal records from obtaining occupational licenses, according to a database developed by the American Bar Association. The restrictions are defended as a way to protect the public. But Lincoln and others point out that the rules are often arbitrary and ambiguous.