“hello,” says the nice lady. “hello,” i reply, not realizing that my life is only moments from being changed forever.
it’s the lady calling from the group that i had volunteered for. my task: driving older people around to appointments and shopping and such. i know how to drive and shop. in a misguided moment of compassion for the human race, i signed up. all that stood in my way was a background check.
so a week after our initial meeting, she is calling with the results. “it shows you were convicted in 1979 for attempting to accept stolen property,” she tells me. “this is not the case,” i assure her. “i have never been arrested, in jail or convicted.” ( i have never even had an overdue library book, which should come as a relief to my niece wrestling with the coconino public libary.)
“it also says you are black,” she points out. “this also is not the case,” i reply. we agree i should investigate
as i later look over the paperwork, i notice that the guy’s middle name is spelled differently. He is black. I am white. He committed this crime in detroit in 1979, at a time of my life that i had never left the great state of texas. so why is he hanging out on my report?
i call the phoenix police department. the switchboard says they’re not taking calls for a couple of hours because of their backlog. i’m thinking they won’t be impressed by my dilemma. so we go to the scottsdale p.d. where I explain my plight. i ask the woman at the desk how i can go about proving it’s not true. She looks at me. She looks at the report. “Did they notice you’re not black?” she asks. of course, police are trained to be especially observant.
she sends us to scottsdale records department, which $10 later provides a thorough background check for me. sadly it only proves i have committed no crimes in scottsdale. i ponder driving to detroit to repeat the routine there, but i am losing interest.
luckily i get around to reading the specifics of the document. the search they use is only for my name, SMITH, and my birthdate. No middle name, no social security number, no nothin’. i find it reassuring that out of what must be 50,000 of us with the same name born on my birthdate, only ONE of us has ever had a criminal offense. and that was when he was young, and he’s never gotten in trouble since. good job, detroit dude! and good job, rest of us !
so i call the security check company and the guy says, well, yes, they only search first and last names and birthdate, and that can be a problem. duh. all i have to do is get a form from them, send back evidence that it’s not me and then within 30 days they will get back to my volunteer group. i dutifully fill out the form, mostly because i keep picturing volunteer lady saying, “i KNEW that black guy looked guilty,” whenever i walk by. i have no idea how to prove that it’s not me, so on the form i just scrawl something about how my name is spelled differently and I don’t care at all for the Detroit Lions.
the end result? i spend the day chasing my tail (or the tail of a guy in detroit), i’m out $10.40 trying to clear things up, and i’m fighting the urge to drive to detroit and steal stuff just because that seems to be where my life is headed anyhow.
and that is why i rarely volunteer.