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School volunteer's criminal record keeps him from helping

Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 6:51 PM
Last updated Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 12:57 AM
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 Henry Oakman is a free man but still a prisoner of his past.

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Henry Oakman, Hornsby K-8 School's 2010 Volunteer of the Year, was banned from volunteering there after a parent complained about his criminal background. “God knows I’ve done wrong, and I’ve decided I want to fix it," Oakman said. "Please let me."

He spent most of his years as a wanderer, some as a criminal and few helping others.
But after a 2007 heart attack made doctors hint at fu­neral arrangements, he swore that the rest of his years would be spent bettering society.

In 2009, he slipped a three-piece suit over his tattoos and started his new life volunteering at Hornsby K-8 School, determined to reach at-risk kids before they repeated his mistakes.

Every day, he’d arrive on campus before most teachers and pick up a broom or take out trash. At lunchtime, Oak­man monitored the cafe­ter­ia and was the calming pres­ence teachers called on to talk down a frustrated student.
By the end of the 2009-10 year, Oakman had racked up 917 hours of service, earning him the school’s Volunteer of the Year award.

He took a two-year hiatus and returned in August to pick up where he left off. But when a parent found out about his criminal history, school officials, acknowledging the good he did on the campus, thanked him for his service and banned him from volunteering.

“It’s not fair,” Oakman said. “I don’t know why I’m being handcuffed. I thought this was a forgiving nation. People make mistakes, so where’s the incentive to turn around? You turn your life around and try to help others, and there’s nothing there for you. What kind of example is that?”

OAKMAN’S GOAL was to use his past as a cautionary lesson to students, but Richmond County School System officials said he never would have been allowed to volunteer if they had known about his criminal convictions.

“Yes, we all want to have a second chance to do a better job, and we want to encourage people to continue to improve on mistakes and slips along the way, but we don’t want them to be affecting the character development of young children whose minds are so impressionable,” said Carol Rountree, the district’s director of student services.

Rountree said Oakman’s convictions could have fallen through the cracks in 2009 because they were all out-of-state, and the system only ran a Georgia background check.

The district has guidelines on who is allowed in schools, and the rules are the same for volunteers and employees.

People with serious offenses, such as manslaughter and rape, cannot be hired. Some crimes mean disqualification if they were committed within 10 years, others within five years, and some are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

In Oakman’s situation, a vehicle burglary charge in Kansas from 2007, aggravated assault in Utah from 2000 and a burglary and drug charge in California from 1991 disqualify him, Rountree said.

“Sometimes people have good intentions,” Rountree said. “They feel like telling kids ‘You need to stay out of trouble,’ and then use their own lives as an example. But children see that as ‘Maybe I can do something, and then I will be forgiven.’ You don’t want that.”

THE 48-YEAR-OLD is not denying his mistakes, but he said his life is a tool that should be used to help others before his heart condition worsens.

He was born in Kansas City, Kan., and moved to “the Blood and Crips (gang) capital of the world,” Long Beach, Calif., to live with his father when he was 7 years old.

Like many kids at the school, Oakman joined the Long Beach Crips when he was 12 and looked up to the older gang members as though they were family.

At the time, gangs were more for protection than violence, and the gang members told him to stay in school and help his father.

When his mother was on her death bed, Oakman moved back to Kansas City at 17 to be with her. After her death, Oakman joined the Marine Corps as a way to support his two sisters and brother.

After the service, he cooked hamburgers and eggs at the stadiums for the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals. He got an offer to open the kitchen at the then-Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami in 1987 and went for it.

It started out like a dream, but when the players went on strike, Oakman returned to Kansas with $380 in his bank account and no plan.

“That’s where my problems really began,” Oakman said. “I was lost, trying to find my way in life.”

From the early ’90s until 2004, Oakman wandered. He had no wife and no kids, so no responsibility.

In 2004, he was fed up.

“I hadn’t been the best citizen to this point,” he said. “I didn’t want to live my life in a way that wasn’t making a difference to anybody.”

That year, Oakman moved to Augusta, where his brother’s genealogy project showed his ancestors had lived after slavery. He joined a church, got a job as the executive chef at the 1102 Downtown Bar and Grill and found love.

He met his wife, a custodian at Hornsby, in church and got married soon after. He took in her five children as his own and found a new purpose in life.

In 2009, his volunteer work began at his wife’s school. It was the happiest Oakman had been in years.

“He was a volunteer, but you’d think he was on salary because he’d get there as early as 7 in the morning and leave at 5 in the evening,” said then-middle school administrator Charles Givens. “He was a person who I could depend on to do pretty much do anything.”

Givens said Oakman escorted new students to class, cleaned the hallways and showed up to work every day in an impeccable suit and tie. He was a good example, Givens said, and most important, trustworthy.

IN 2010, Oakman was in a car accident. The deputy at the scene checked his record and found an outstanding warrant for a vehicle burglary charge in Kansas from 2007. Oakman denies any involvement in the incident, but he decided to not to waste money fighting the charge.

So he returned to Kansas and served nine months in jail, leaving his volunteer work behind, and finished a year of probation in Augusta.

When his probation was completed, he went back to Hornsby in August and began coaching middle school football, picking up where he left off.

By October, someone caught wind of where he had been for the past year, and it was over.

Oakman tried to explain his case to school officials, that his goal is to change his life by helping others, but they didn’t budge. Rountree, Deputy Superintendent Tim Spivey and Athletic Director George Bailey met and decided that his past criminal record outweighed his volunteer record at the school.

Oakman said he is not giving up and wants to return to helping at-risk kids.

Because of his cardiomyopathy and emphysema, he doesn’t think he has more than five years of life in him. That leaves little time, but Oakman said his story of rebirth can be used to help kids growing with the same distractions that affected him.

“I don’t want my life to not make a difference to anybody else but me,” Oakman said. “God knows I’ve done wrong, and I’ve decided I want to fix it. Please let me.”

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redapples 10/28/12 - 07:16 pm
RCBOE made the right call.

RCBOE made the right call.

crackerjack 10/28/12 - 07:25 pm
Mr. Oakman

I think Mr. Oakman has suffered enough for his transgressions, and society needs to quit beating a dead horse. Society wants to rehabilitate ex cons, but when the ex cons try to rehabilitate themselves, society looks down on them and tries to make them do their time over again. The man is trying to do the right thing, and needs to be encouraged not decimated and re-criminalized. Have some compassion for folks trying to do the right thing, and keep your critical holier-than-thou trap shut for once. After all if he was really a bad person, then he could run for political office.

Crackerjack (a Senior White Person)

gargoyle 10/28/12 - 08:16 pm
RCBOE has a good policy that

RCBOE has a good policy that should be followed, no exceptions.Mr. Oakman has many places that his service to the community would be greatly appreciated and if he has turned his life around he should understand why limitations have been put into place. Isn't a block provided to self report past crimes on his Volunteer Aplication?

nothin2show4it 10/28/12 - 09:27 pm
Only in the South

Not having grown up here I have difficulties understanding some mentalities. One is the lack of forgiveness when a person gets their act together and becomes a productive person in society like this man. If he has resolved the past issues and has paid the price for what he has done then he would be allowed to help. The only kind of people that should not be allowed are murders and sexual predators.

allhans 10/28/12 - 09:39 pm
Does he have a paying job.

Does he have a paying job. It sounds like he is ready and able.
Maybe that could be the answer for him.

GiantsAllDay 10/29/12 - 05:04 am
Forgiving nation?

Mr. Oakman, your seem like a good and decent man. I hope that you find an opportunity to volunteer in another organization. You stated that you thought that this was a forgiving nation. Well sir, it's not. I have no clue why you even thought that in the first place. If you're religulosly inclined, seek God's forgiveness and find peace with that. Just realize that no human being in the RCBOE is ever going to forgive you.

JggrNAUT 10/29/12 - 05:38 am

I underdstand the law and the need for it. Where is the opportunity for rehabilitation going to come from? This man seems to show a desire to have a positve impact and right his past. The negativity of some of these posts disgust me. I constantly read complaints about how people in the black community need to step up. There needs to be a pathway for felons to prove rehabilitaion in order to stop negative, destructive, generational patterns. Someone tries to contribute and they are shut down? There must be a way to allow this man to continue to be there for these children since parents aren't making themselves available.....

Can a church step up?

smartasugarsugar 10/29/12 - 07:09 am
Keep your chin up.

Everyone makes mistakes. Things take time. Go on with your life and find others you can reach and help, there are so many ways you helped others, you can do it.

OpenCurtain 10/29/12 - 07:47 am
Sounds like a good man - Now

Mr. Oakman, has been given 3 felony level chances already - 1991 Drugs, 2000 aggravated assault and 2007-2011 car burglary(s).

While this is a well placed side story to promoted discussion of Mr. Roundtree's 2nd chance theory. It skims over things and avoids clearly saying others. I would like deeper clearer information on the story. Such as, the local Car Accident, drug arrest and time served, and how badly he injured the person during the aggravated assault?

Dancing around the fact
"He took a two-year hiatus and returned in August to pick up where he left off." In 2010 the same year he was serving time in Kansas and on probation there and then a year here in Augusta. All being completed in 2011.

Our BOE has a clear policy in place to protect our kids and the county tax payers, and I agree with it.

I also agree with "Gargoyle" "Mr. Oakman has many places that his service to the community would be greatly appreciated..."

OpenCurtain 10/29/12 - 09:06 am
Debated whether to ask this

Debated whether to ask this, because of my open support in the sheriffs race would make it look like a cheap shot.

Who in the Richmond Co. Board of Education is responsible for doing or seeing that all staff and volunteers undergo a background check?

When Mr. Oakman returned from his "two-year hiatus" By policy he should have fallen under the 2009 requirement for nationwide background checks of all personnel .

The LOCAL 1 year probation in 2011 should have been a Red Flag to start with, right?

Also I see Carol Roun()tree (no D) listed several times is that a misspelling for Roundtree?

Sojourner of Truth
Sojourner of Truth 10/29/12 - 10:18 am
Criminal History Background Checks are a Rip-Off

Less than 5% of those who commit a sexually-related criminal offense or who embezzle money from their employers have a prior criminal record. If a hospital ran a cancer screening test that missed 95% of all cancers, it would be sued for malpractice, but businesses keep buying and relying upon criminal history background checks that fail to predict over 95% of criminal activity in these two major categories alone.

Statistics show that within 3 years of release from incarceration, there is no predictive value in a criminal background report, even for convicted sex offenders. The probabilities of an ex-offender committing a crime are the same as a non-offender at that point. Criminal background check histories are based upon junk science and utterly worthless as a predictor of future conduct, especially when it comes to stale conviction data.

Employers and landlords should just as well consult an astrologer or a palm reader to decide who to hire or who to rent to. It’s all the same pseudoscience, like alchemy, handwriting analysis and lie detectors. Phrenologists long ago believed that their “scientific” reading of bumps on the head revealed moral and intellectual qualities, including a person’s likelihood of committing criminal acts. These are the great-grandfathers of the criminal history background check industry where moral panic trumps scientific reasoning.

While there are a plethora of reports and studies proving the inherent unreliability of criminal history background checks, proponents of these reports cannot point to a single scientific study showing that they are valid, or even partially valid, predictors of future conduct. Like snake oil hawkers of old, the vendors of these reports tout their benefits but remain silent about any scientific support for their claims.

Numerous studies have also shown that criminal history background reports are riddled with errors, inaccuracies, and mismatches, and, even if accurate information is presented, most potential employers and landlords do not know how to interpret the information. The distinctions between an arrest and a conviction, between a misdemeanor and a felony, between jail and prison, are completely lost on most readers. If the report does not come back “clean,” the person is not hired. Period.

So if a criminal charge for playing dominos on Sunday (a crime in Alabama) or using an elephant to plow a cotton field (a crime in North Carolina) shows up, all the potential employer sees is a “ding” and the job application gets tossed into the trash can and the rental application gets shredded.

Employers and landlords waste a lot of time, energy and money running criminal background checks, and thereby keep highly-qualified people and a disproportionate number of minority applicants out of the labor force and out of affordable housing, but they live in a fool's paradise if they think they are somehow protecting their business and customers from criminal conduct. Installing closed-circuit TV cameras over the cash register and bright lights in the parking lot would be a better use of their money.

Criminal background checks are a billion dollar a year rip-off by unscrupulous information brokers in a minimally regulated industry. Anyone that relies upon them is just another victim of a scam operated by companies with little or no accountability and which base their business models on a pervasive witch-hunt mentality in our society.

Surrendering to moral panic is not the way to make informed decisions in the United States, the “land of the free,” the “land of equal opportunity,” and the home of “justice for all.” Today’s outsized reliance on fallacious criminal history background reports renders these expressions of national identity meaningless in modern American culture.

MarinerMan 10/29/12 - 11:22 am
And They Say, "Rules Are Meant to be Broken".

Seems to me that Mr. Oakman has been a pretty good role model for the students. And he has probably shown more concern, than some of these kid's parents. I agree with the above -- he's one of the few who want to rehabilitate themselves. A business person needs to step up on Mr. Oakman's behalf.

BarstoolDreamer 10/29/12 - 03:18 pm
The choices you make in your

The choices you make in your life have consequences.... what a great lesson for the children.... see he is still helping.

OpenCurtain 10/30/12 - 08:58 am
Sojourner of Truth - missing the fact

Corrections to my earlier post, based on the RCBOE website there was no misspelling of Ms. Carol Rountree's name there is NO "d" missing.

Facts are important that why I correct my mistakes when I make them.

Now addressing the newly joined member Sojourner of Truth statement:
"Criminal background checks are a billion dollar a year rip-off by unscrupulous information brokers in a minimally regulated industry. "

That is why Local, State and Federal Agencies use their own databases based on actual Court Records.

Not the less accurate civilian gleaned databases.

After a few calls yesterday. I was informed the Board of Education relies on the Augusta-Richmond County Board of Education Police and their findings regarding volunteers and staff.

Now who heads up this group ?


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