Many of you who have followed my ongoing journey are aware of my struggle to find meaningful, full-time employment since I was released from prison in 2011. After over 400 attempts with little to show for it other than some awesome experience at writing and updating resume's and being more comfortable in interviews, my frustration was reaching epic proportions when a good friend offered a suggestion off hand while he was working with my wife and I at finding a place to rent (another frustrating task for ex-felons). He asked if I'd ever considered a career in real estate. At the time I remember telling him that I hadn't and the conversation went on to other topics (like finding Kathy and I a place to live before our lease ran out where we were renting (and told they would NOT renew after they discovered my 'background').
Sometime later, when no other doors were opening, I approached my friend to ask him how I would get started. He suggested I contact the Real Estate Commission, which I did and found that here too there was a barrier, but that there was a possibility that I could obtain my license as a once I had passed the requisite Pre-Licensing Class, the NC State Exam for Real Estate Licensure and then met with the NC Real Estate Commission and satisfied them regarding my having the necessary character. I spoke with Chris Barnette, the instructor for the Go School, and he was cautionary, but positive about my chances. Many within the community of Go Realty were upbeat and encouraged me to move forward and so I enrolled at the Go School in the Pre-Licensing Class.
I found the material initially rather intimidating (the book alone was bigger than anything I’d seen outside of the Power Plant manuals on the Lafayette!); Chris promised all of us in the class a comprehensive overview of what was necessary not only to pass his exam at the conclusion of the class, but the NC State exam as well. With three classes per week, the required reading and other material thrown at us, there was more than a little concern that I’d bit off more than I could chew. While taking the class I’d spoken with Jim Garman and Kevin Woody about if Go Realty would welcome me once I was licensed; both of these gentlemen added to the encouragement I was already receiving, Kevin suggesting I get together with Karen Roberts who was the Broker-in-Charge of the Go Durham office as that would be the closest office to where Kathy and I lived. I contacted Karen and set up an appointment to speak with her and was once again met with effusive encouragement and support for what we hoped was my budding career in real estate.
Over the ensuing weeks I was encouraged to come by the Go Durham office to help out their ‘Angel’ (Go Realty’s version of an office administrator) with some of the minutiae that she was responsible for (and things that did not require a license such as running to the store to pick up various items, etc.). Karen had met with all of the agents in the office and asked if there were any qualms about my becoming part of the Go Durham family (really, that is what it is!); when she told me that there was not a single hesitation on their part despite my felony, all welcomed me with open arms, it felt very much like a homecoming! Apart from my family at the Chapel Hill Bible Church, this had been the first time I’d received such a greeting and I began to have some hope that this dream could indeed come true!
Completing the class (and passing Chris’ exam!) had me pumped! Chris had told us that if we could pass his exam, the state exam should be no problem and a few weeks later I found that to be true. After I’d completed the exam I remember taking a deep breath and wondering if there was something I was missing because it had seemed much easier than I’d expected. I walked out of the testing room and saw the two proctors whispering to each other as something printed out. The expressions were decidedly neutral and I began to think that perhaps my thinking the test had been ‘easy’ was because I had not known the material and only deluded myself about my chances (yeah, still full of positive vibes from all that D.O.C. taught me). Anyway, I’d braced myself to put a brave face on it when the two ladies turned to me and said, “Congratulations!” I blurted out, “You mean I passed?” which caused them both to erupt in laughter and nod yes and show me the document that had just printed out certifying that I had indeed passed the state exam!
“I DID IT!” I yelled as soon as I was out of the testing center. Folks looked at this crazy person, but thankfully no one called the police (or I left the area before they arrived?) and I drove to the Go Durham office to share with them the great news. Now the only hurdle was getting the NC Real Estate Commission to sign off on my becoming a real estate agent; that proved to be quite a hurdle!
There was a great deal of naiveté on my part regarding the hearing; I just assumed that with all the folks from Go Realty in my corner and especially statements of support from Chris Barnette and Karen Roberts, I was a shoe in. When I was told by the Commission that I would need legal representation, I began to understand that this last hurdle (the hearing) was to be the steepest to overcome. Chris suggested an attorney known to the Real Estate Commission whose office was in Winston-Salem and when I’d made an initial inquiry and he seemed disposed to help me, so we set up an appointment form me to meet with him and his partner.
Bill Gifford was an incredibly able attorney, but much more than that, he treated me with respect and affirmation and acted in such a positive manner that I again began to think that this was going to happen. The counsel for the Commission seemed to be indicating to me that his job was keeping from being licensed; this man who’d never met me and only knew me from what he could garner from my record (the old man that I was desperately trying to leave behind) was intent (as events would show) at painting me as a ravening mad man unworthy of even remaining outside of prison walls. In the weeks leading up to the hearing, Bill and I explored all the negative that was Anthony Shook before prison (and before Christ) and felt that the testimony of several who knew (all too well) the ‘old’ Tony and now knew the new man that Christ had made me into (rather, was making me into remembering that Philippians 1:6 is still my ‘favorite’ verse of Scripture) as well as several in the real estate community (including Chris Barnette) would overcome what was admittedly a rather dark past.
The day of the hearing dawned bright and expected to be hot, but I felt positively positive and upbeat as we drove to Raleigh. Meeting with those who would testify on my behalf prior to going into the hearing was another dose of ‘let’s get this done!’ but I have to confess to the same gut-wrenching dread whenever I looked into the eyes of the co-counsel for the Commission. I felt like a mouse facing a VERY hungry lion! This was born out during the hearing; I’ve told others since that it was worse than my trial as this time my guilt was presumed and the Commission’s counsel seeming goal was to dig up every single bit of dirt that had EVER happened that could be directly or indirectly attributed to me. The positive that those testifying for me seemed like a feather in the face of the hurricane of ‘evidence’ provided to the Commission and, not surprising, they elected not to allow me to be licensed.
What helped me keep all of this in perspective was that the evening before Kathy and I had attended choir practice (we are on the choir at the Bible Church) and immediately after the Commission had rendered their decision, we left to get to the church in time for the Maundy Thursday service. Yes, the decision was not what I’d hoped and prayed for and how I was pictured by the counsel for the NC Real Estate Commission was painful in the extreme to go through, but in view of what others have gone through, of what my King went through for the man I once was who mocked what I thought I understood of ‘religion’ and those weak-minded folk who needed such a crutch; no I had much to celebrate and little to complain or whine about. As I told one of my friends that evening as we arrived at the church to prepare to sing when they asked how the hearing had gone, “The King is still on the throne!”
So, what now? I continue to work at a part-time/temporary position I've held for some time now, but it seems that there is a door opening, perhaps, that could lead me in decidedly new directions. Stay tuned.