NC Business Leader Says Internet Serves ‘Second Sentence’ to Ex-Cons

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) – “The internet is forever.” It’s a line we repeat to our children as they choose what to post.

But if you’ve ever committed a crime, there is far less control over your online image. It can make the hunt for a job come up empty, leading some to return to a life of crime.

“Perception becomes reality to some individuals,” Joshua Proby says. “And it’s not always the case sometimes.”

Perception is one of Proby’s biggest battles, five months after prison.

He sat down with WBTV, to “Google” himself for the first time.

“The picture only shows somebody, in the state that they were in, when it happened,” he says. “It doesn’t tell you that he’s watched his children age through pictures, it doesn’t tell you that he has understood his crime, and the effect that it had in the community, it doesn’t show you the nights he goes to sleep crying, trying to figure out how to become better.”

Proby is now a welder. He trained while living 12 years behind bars. But when tried to get a second job, some couldn’t see beyond their internet search.

“They finally sent a letter saying hey, we can’t hire you,” he says.

The North Carolina Justice Center says 92 percent of employers conduct criminal background checks, and the 1.6 million North Carolinians with criminal records are 50 percent less likely to get a call back.

“Now, employers don’t really even have to do a background check,” Brian Hamilton says. “They can just Google people.”

While a North Carolina business leader, Hamilton has worked with current and former inmates for 26 years. He’s now demanding legislation to clear criminal records from online search results, after jail time’s been served.

“You should be punished, you should do the time, obviously,” he says. “But I think any fair-minded American would question whether that should extend beyond your sentence.”

Hamilton is a tech tycoon, recently selling his company Sageworks and moving into the nonprofit world, creating “Inmates to Entrepreneurs.” He says it does not matter whether the application box is checked for a criminal record or not – if an employer has Wifi.

“That’s not the problem,” he says. “The problem right now is with technology people like me, creating technology or social media mechanisms, where your past is permanently emblazoned on your forehead.”

Mecklenburg County Family court Administrator Darwin Rice helps expunge legal records. He says the challenge does not only exist for those who have served time, but those who have had charges dismissed, as well.

“Not just Google itself, but you also have actual sites, websites, that are designed for having people’s mugshots up there, having information about their record,” Rice says.

Rice says the idea of regulations has merit.

“That’s inaccurate information,” he says. “Companies should not be using that.”

And while Josh Proby pens his first book, while planning to end his stay at a local shelter, he moves to push beyond that online impression.

“The reality of it is, that some people will only be able to view you as you used to be,” he says. “And it’s hurtful because it doesn’t give that person who’s getting out that opportunity to make that change.”

Critics of this idea argue employers should be able to have easy access to this sort of information online. Still, Hamilton believes that is accomplished by a regular criminal background check once an applicant has their foot in the door.