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A record for life

Daniela Caride | 9/17/2008, 4:54 a.m.

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Ex-cons battle overwhelming obstacles, odds


Roxbury native Pamela Henderson holds her favorite Bible — the first one she had during her years in prison — heavily scribbled in from close, repeated study. For ex-convicts like Henderson, the path to re-entry into mainstream society is littered with temptations and roadblocks. (Daniela Caride photo)


Hundreds of activists jam the entrance to the State House during a September 2007 rally asking legislators to change the laws that govern the Criminal Offender Records Information system. (Banner file photo)   Clarence Buggs speaks at a SPAN Inc. event where he received a certificate for his accomplishments in life after being released from prison. Buggs, 57, learned how to upholster furniture while an inmate at MCI-Norfolk in the 1970s. (Daniela Caride photo)   Christina Mercogliano sits at the East Boston sober house where she now lives. While the 25-year-old has nine years of experience in the retail industry, she says prospective employers recoil at the sight of her criminal record. (Daniela Caride photo)

Christina Mercogliano, 25, has nine years of retail experience. You name it, she’s worked it — everything from the cash register to stocking shelves to overnights in shipping and delivery.

But none of that counts these days when she goes out on job interviews. When potential employers see her criminal record — which includes multiple assault, battery and armed robbery charges — they don’t answer her follow-up calls.

“They look at me like I’m a menace to society,” says Mercogliano. “A lot of people believe you should live hung for your crime for the rest of your life.”

Released from prison last July, Mercogliano now lives in a sober house in East Boston. Her life has become a symbol of a well-known vicious cycle.

Life without a job is hard enough. Life without a job and with a criminal record is even worse.

 “It’s very stressful,” she says. “It’s overwhelming even today.”

Mercogliano had been in prison for 18 months. In addition to food and rent, she must pay monthly parole and probation fees while battling a now-controlled heroin addiction that once dragged her into crime.

Even with all that on her plate, Mercogliano is luckier than most offenders leaving prison in Massachusetts. She applied for membership in SPAN Inc. while still in jail, and the nonprofit organization not only found her a sober house, but also paid her rent for five weeks. She attends meetings, gets psychological support, looks for jobs and eats at SPAN Inc.’s downtown Boston headquarters.