If you read this column regularly, you know that “Bert Burykill” is a made-up moniker I adopted when I started writing for this esteemed publication in the summer of 2011. Back then I was still locked the fuck up in the slamma-lamma-clink-kong, and I used a fake name ‘cause the prison didn’t want me telling the wider world about what was going on inside, but quite honestly I also didn’t want the average Joe, Dick, or Suzy to be able to google my real name and learn that I’m an expert at jammin’ contraband in my buttpocket, or that once upon a time not too long ago I fucked rubber gloves with the enthusiasm of a baby duck dunking its head in the water for the very first time. Plus, a lotta the sleaze I squeezed out of my brain I didn’t necessarily want my grandma to learn. I can picture it now—she’s at the bridge tournament bragging to Ruby and Ethyl about her grandson, who she thinks is in the process of crafting the next Great American Novel, and they decide to “goggle” me to see what I’m writing only to get smacked in the face with an embarrassing body of work that includes me documenting my “O-face” while I feverishly pound my two-pound flesh dagger for the whole world to see.
Last year, I got really lucky and got a good job waiting tables at a pretty bonerable restaurant. I enjoyed working there, and I come across as pretty clean-cut, so I don’t think my bosses bothered to google me. They didn’t ask if I was a felon, either—I imagine it didn’t even cross their minds. Then, one night when things were slow, the manager and this waitress he had knocked up were goofing off by searching for employees’ names on mugshots.com and some other sites. They were getting giggles out of this until all of a sudden they got real quiet and started and whispering. I knew they had come to my name.
I don’t have any mugshots floating around online, but there is an article from a local newspaper about my initial arrest for drugs that comes up right at the top of the Google results for my real name. I won’t link to it for reasons that should be obvious, but the piece contains a few blatant inaccuracies—it basically implies I was running a drug-trafficking ring that stretched from New York City to some far-flung upstate regions. It’s also from 2004, which feels like a lifetime ago. I feel like there should be a statute of limitations on what searches can produce. It’s messed up that my getting caught doin’ dumb shit is immortalized in some bullshit newspaper, and those fuckers won’t even take down the article even when I emailed and told them it was fucking up my life. That’s some cold shit...
Anyhow, I didn’t get fired on the spot after my boss knew about my arrest, but things got awkward after that. I kinda wish I had just told everyone at work about my past right off the bat, but some of them would’ve been freaked out so I figured it was best to keep it on the diggy-lo. In any case, they started cutting my shifts and I overheard some rude comments that made it clear they were talking shit about me behind my back. I think they assumed that since I was a convicted criminal that I was untrustworthy, because everyone except me had keys to the place. I’m pretty sure one employee in particular used my past and the documentary about my life as ammo to spread lies about me. I won’t ever know how much of this hostility had to do with my past, but I got pushed out even though I felt like I was a model employee.
When I first got out of prison in 2011, it took me a year to find work. Granted, I lived out in the sticks and my parole officer took my driver’s license away, which made my job search even harder than it would have been, but I know that most employers google all prospective hires, and most places don’t want someone who did three to nine years for selling drugs working there. Also, when a hiring manager sees I got a three to nine, he’s naturally gonna assume my whole resume is bullshit. Admittedly some of it is BS, but I didn’t do nine years in a row and I was working when I wasn’t in prison... I actually do have a lot of restaurant experience and a couple years of office work.
I feel so awful for my mother. She tried to raise me right and lathered me with more love than I deserved. She used to google me all the time and sit there for an hour clicking on all my positive links to push them ahead of the negative ones in the rankings. There have been times when the article about my arrest wasn’t even on the front page thanks to the tedious hard work my mom and I put in. Then, when I applied for 20 or so jobs after I got out in 2011, it moved back up so it was in the top five results. I guess somebody was clicking on it a lot. Now it’s right up at the top. What a bummer...
I’ve been applying for jobs this past month and interviewing like the people’s champ. Some managers hired me Johnny-on-the-spot, but every time, shortly after they told me to come in to start training or whatever, they'd mysteriously and very awkwardly call me up or send a bizarre email explaining that they had actually hired someone else and forgot or some shit like like that. In one heartbreaking incident I had a great conversation and got hired at the best restaurant in the neighborhood, and then ten minutes later I received a email that said, basically, “Never mind.” Ouch.
My mom finally put her foot down and told me I needed to start using my middle name, which is also her father’s name. That’s worked out pretty well—at least I haven’t had anyone take away a job from me after a quick google—but still, here I am trying to find a decent gig, yet again. It feels like I’m amateur-hour, bush-league... I’m on the outside looking in, I’m the kid sitting by myself in the sandbox digging for Boba Fett while the other kids play stickball and chase the girls or whatever—all ‘cause of the internet and a BS article from nine years ago hanging around my neck like a fucking albatross. As soon as I’m off parole I’m going to get my name legally changed to Dick Sparkles.
Bert Burykill is the pseudonym of our prison correspondent, who has spent time in a number of prisons in New York State. He tweets here.
Previously: Curtis Snow Is Trying to Go Legit