The Politics of Second Chances

America loves a comeback. We love to see someone overcome their circumstances and prevail, whether it is a win in sports or a complete change in life. However, a second chance is something that must be earned; a person should show that they are worthy of a second chance before it is given, or one can hardly be surprised when the outcome is exactly as it was the first time around. This is where, sometimes, society gets a little confused.

Take Robert Martinez Gill, for example. Gill went to prison in 1992 for cocaine and heroin distribution conspiracy, until his life sentence was commuted by former president Barack Obama in January. Obama wrote that the pardon was granted “because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. . . . Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity.”

He did not.

Gill was arrested shortly after his release, after allegedly crashing his car into another while fleeing from a drug deal involving a kilo of cocaine. That’s someone who, maybe, should have been vetted a little more before getting a second chance.

Contrast that with Resa Woodward, a sixth grade teacher in Texas. Woodward, now thirty-eight, found herself in a difficult situation nearly twenty years ago, and that situation, she says, was taken advantage of by an older man who forced her to appear in pornographic movies. Her involvement in these films, she told the Dallas Morning News, “was not of my own choosing.” While many people might let something like that define their lives, Woodward did what we would hope anyone in that situation would have the ability and strength to do: She made a better life for herself.

She furthered her education, earning a master’s degree, and took a job teaching at the Young Women’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) Academy at Balch Springs Middle School. Woodward says that she received merit pay increases two years in a row from Dallas ISD, so her performance was never in question. However, her past caught up with her, even though she says “I’ve been trying to live my life as far away as possible from this stuff for a long time.”

In March of last year, when her participation in porn was first discovered, an internal review cleared her of any policy violations and she continued to teach. However, when someone took a disliking to her libertarian politics and looked into her background, he determined that the past she had left behind could be used against her and made the information public in November. Once it became public, Woodward was removed from the classroom, essentially punishing her for making something better of her life.

While a school district has the right to fire a teacher who is unfit to instruct children due to poor moral character, there is significant question as to whether or not that applies to Woodward. She was coerced into something nearly twenty years ago which she escaped, and there is no indication that she has led a life since then that would be considered unfit for a teacher.

What message does the treatment of Woodward send to people who feel stuck in an untenable position? It tells them that any attempt to better their situation is futile, as their current circumstances will always define them.

“I taught in an all-girls STEAM academy that was all about empowerment for women,” Woodward said. “The sad thing is that if these girls find out that I’m being punished for something that I did nearly 20 years ago and had no control of and fought to get out of, well, what does that say about empowerment?”

What indeed?

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  • Mack

    Well said. Why is this woman, apparently the sort of teacher we want for our children, being punished for a cruelty inflicted upon her as a child?

  • Jon Camp

    At my junior high school in the Chicago suburbs we had a teacher who was a former Playboy centerfold. A) Everyone knew it, b) nobody cared since she was a good teacher and her posing was over 20 year prior in the early 60’s (she was now married, with children and to my early-teen eyes not really pretty anyway), and c) it was a tradition that someone would hang her centerfold in the lunchroom at some point during the year and the teachers would see it and pull it down within seconds, but it still went up…..

    Still… there was never talk of firing her for any reason. She was a competent teacher, and that was all that anyone cared about.