Hiring ex-cons, then and now

Frederic Pryor died earlier this month. He was the “throw in” in the 1962 prisoner exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The principals were Francis Gary Powers and Rudolf Abel. The deal was the subject of the 2015 movie “Bridge of Spies.”

Pryor was a Yale graduate student in economics. He found himself in East Berlin studying East Germany’s economic system when the Stasi arrested him for spying. Pryor was looking at 5 to 10 years in prison, but U.S. negotiators insisted that he be part of the prisoner exchange deal involving Powers and Abel.

Pryor received his doctorate from Yale shortly after returning the U.S. He said he applied for a job in the auto industry, but was rejected because he had a prison record. Pryor said he explained that it was the commies who imprisoned him. His potential employer was unmoved.

That’s harsh.

Pryor landed on his feet. He went on to teach economics at the University of Michigan, worked as a researcher at Yale, and then taught for decades at Swarthmore College.

Fortunately, we’ve come a long way from the early 1960s when it comes to the hiring of former prisoners. I just hope we don’t go too far in the opposite direction.

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