District 2 Rogers County employee, Scott Casler, knows he can’t change the wreckage of his past. What he can do is live well today. For the past four years he thought he was doing just that.

Then the publisher of the Oologah Lake Leader, John Wylie, learned and published the details of his past felony record in a exposé on Casler’s boss, D2 Commissioner Mike Helm.

Casler and Helm are now under scrutiny for Casler’s past run-ins with the law, i.e. former felony convictions. Casler’s record combined with reports that he had been the D2 receiving agent spurred a ruling against employment of felons by county offices from the District Attorney’s office and a request for a State Attorney General’s opinion.



WHO IS SCOTT CASLER?

Casler does not deny his past.

He was discharged by the Oklahoma Department

of Corrections on July 10, 2005. His criminal record

is public record and accessible for all to see. It includes feloniously pointing a weapon, forgery, attempting to obtain merchandise by false pretenses and bogus check.

He now claims to be a changed person.

Casler said he became a Christian and was baptized July 20, 2003.

“I went to church and said, ‘my life’s a mess — help,’” he said. First Baptist Owasso was the first church to help him. They answered his questions and taught him about God’s forgiveness.

Casler now attends the church where he teaches Sunday School.

“I teach a 10th grade boys Sunday school class,” he said. “I use my past to hit them between the eyes — to reach them when they’re in some of those tough spots.”

Casler said his church family was aware of his past and supported him. When he couldn’t get work due to the felony convictions in his background, they hired him as a night time janitor at the church. He had keys to everything including the financial office.



CHALLENGES

OF STARTING OVER

“After you’re a felon, it’s virtually impossible to get a license to do anything you need a state license for,” said Casler, though he admits there are some exceptions. “I can’t get a HAZMAT endorsement for my CDL (commercial driver’s license) which eliminates me from a lot of truck driving jobs.”

It is his understanding that he could be excluded from such far-ranging jobs as funeral director, real estate and anything to do with horse racing, though he said people should check through the proper channels on each individual license.

Finding a place to live can also be difficult for a convicted felon. Casler said one of the charges on his record was from trying to obtain the birth certificate of a dead person.

“I think I was trying to rent an apartment,” he said. Many apartments will not rent to anyone with a felony conviction.

Once, he managed to slip under the radar and got an apartment by leaving the box blank on his rental application. A woman who lived there was being abused and begged him to call 911 for help. After he called, the authorities ran his name through the system and discovered he was a felon. They notified the apartment, and he was evicted for trying to help someone.

Getting a job is the toughest part of having a felony record. Casler describes filling out job applications as an experience that creates a “feeling of despair.”

“Employers get down to that line and that’s all the farther they go,” he said, referring to the box applicants much check in answer to the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”

A temporary agency wouldn’t use him because they couldn’t bond him.

However, Casler said he has learned tax incentives do exist for employers of ex-felons. According to the IRS Web site, www.irs.gov under Frequently Asked Questions, tax credit is available for qualified ex-felons. “The Work Opportunity Credit provides an incentive to hire individuals from targeted groups that have a particularly high unemployment rate... The credit can be as much as 40 percent of the ‘qualified first year wages.’”



WHY GIVE EX-FELONS SECOND CHANCES?

“I’m not saying that everybody that comes out of prison has changed,” said Casler, “but a lot of guys want to do right.”

Casler does not deny the mistakes of his past or make excuses for them. He is hoping that by talking about his experiences someone else might be helped.

“Once you’ve made these mistakes there’s no redemption from it especially with the computer age,” he said. “It’s just a keystroke away. You can’t hide it and most major companies are not willing to forgive it and hire you.”

“I think if the state would make more good jobs available to offenders it would lower the rate of recidivism,” he said. “As it is, they box you into blue collar work and menial jobs.”

Paige Cole, a minister at First Baptist Owasso describes Casler as a hard worker and a genuinely changed man. Cole said that Casler plays a positive mentorship role in his 13-year-old son’s life.

“I’m friendly to everyone, but I choose my close friends wisely and he (Scott) is a close friend,” said Cole. “I’m amazed at the positive difference, not only in what has changed in Scott’s life, but in the lives that he touches.”

Cole said Casler has changed from a self-focused, angry person to an other-focused, grateful person.

Casler met and married a woman he describes as a devout Christian. Through his church he had a good job, but it took him out of town frequently and he worked about 60 hours a week. The county job was a pay cut but it meant he was closer to home and had more time to spend with his family and church activities.

If the Attorney General decides Casler must leave county employment, he has another job he can go to, but he is concerned for those who may not have those opportunities and for the families who might depend on their health insurance.

“When ex-cons get a job that’s worthwhile, we feel like we have to do twice as much to prove ourselves,” he said.

There is no doubt that some will question the wisdom of Casler working as a fill-in receiving agent. D2 where Casler works has a full-time receiving agent named Kathy Banks.

Banks has worked for Rogers County for 24 years. She has been a the D2 county barn for five years, the last two as receiving agent. County barns must have two receiving agents, one of which is usually an equipment operator who has the technology skills to fill in when the full-time receiving agent is off work. For a short time, that was Casler.

Helm said that Banks probably didn’t miss more than two weeks of work total during the time Casler was the back-up agent. Currently, Erik Harry is the back-up receiving agent

Normally, Casler operates equipment and is particularly good at operating the track hoe according to Helm.

Casler cannot erase the mistakes of his past. Only time will prove that his change of heart and life are genuine. For now, he must go on under the ever watchful eyes of those who learned not to trust him.

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