Publication Version


Posted by Barry Reid on Dec 2nd 2020

When we first published The Paper Trip in 1971, we thought that once the Vietnam War ended the book would no longer be needed. But history since then has proven otherwise. Computerized data banks, both public and private, raise challenges that now threaten everyone. Modern search methods easily reveal almost anything an investigator wants to know. Our personal data can deny us opportunities in housing, employment, insurance, and credit. We may also become the targets of surveillance, undeserved lawsuits, and identity theft.

Our Paper Trip books offer practical defenses against these threats. We can create data profiles that generate minimal exposure. We can use alternate identification to compartmentalize our interests and activities. We can also disappear from an old identity and create a new one to "start life over."

Start life over? Yes, definitely, and with good reason. Millions of Americans have records of arrests and convictions that preclude them from equal opportunities in our society. Even after paying their debt to society, they remain unable to participate on an equal basis with everyone else, so "starting life over" becomes an attractive option.

Here's an everyday example. A young man is caught stealing from a local business, and is later tried, convicted, and sentenced to two years in prison for theft. He serves the two years, but does he leave prison a free man? Assuming no requirements beyond his sentence, e.g., restitution, some would say, "Of course, he's free to come and go as he pleases."

Others, more realistically, would add, "But now he has a record, and he won't be able to get certain jobs, or train for certain trades or professions." Hmm. Funny, but we never heard the judge "add" such conditions when he sentenced the offender. With the two years served, why shouldn't the young man become just like anyone else, free to come and go as he pleases?

The answer comes from so-called "civil disability' laws. These laws limit people with "records" from participating in specified trades, businesses, occupations, and professions. Civil disability laws exist in all states, with many variations, but with no uniformity. They are typically found in Business and Professions Codes, not criminal statutes. The mindset of civil disability laws is obvious: limit competition. Civil disability laws thus go beyond fixed criminal punishments to impose de facto "life sentences" of restrictions and limitations on otherwise free citizens.

In ancient Rome slaves mixed almost freely with the general population as they went about their daily tasks and duties. Anyone could tell they were slaves by their distinguishing marks, clothing, or other appearance, but they were certainly not "equal" despite their seeming freedom.

Today we have literally millions of individuals with "records" mixing freely in society, but restrained by lifetime sentences of restricted choices and opportunities. Civil disability laws continue to create an underclass of citizens that is in every sense unequal to the rest of the population.

If we truly believe in equality, however, what should the "unequal" do? Suffer in silence? Hope for new laws? Settle for reduced opportunities? Do we really want to "keep 'em down" as a form of lasting punishment, or just limit competition in certain sectors? There is only one answer to all these issues.

Civil disability laws serve no legitimate purpose other than to discriminate. If they served a legal purpose, the criminal codes would have these additional "punishments" added at sentencing. Further, under today's concepts of non-discrimination and equal opportunity they are patently contrary to public policy.

We believe free individuals have the right to seek whatever opportunities they want, despite laws that purport to deny them those opportunities. Either we have a free society with truly equal opportunity, or we have something much less. Because civil disability laws put a subclass of our population on an unequal footing with the majority, these laws should be challenged as unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.

It may take years before the Supreme Court faces issues involving Civil Disability and Equal Protection, but that day will come. It came for American slaves, women, disabled persons, and gender-challenged minorities, and it will come as well for those now targeted with extra­legal discrimination.

Meanwhile, problems with negative records can be minimized, even eliminated, with the constructive use of alternate identification. In reaction to the Real ID Act, our newest book, The Paper Trip 4, explores and details even more creative methods for individuals who want to "start life over" in order to pursue the equal opportunities they desire—and deserve.