Remember “Prison Bae” Jeremy Meeks? TMZ calls him “Hot Felon” but I recall when I first encountered his mugshot in 2014 during one of my thumb-scroll Instagram reveries. There he was, piercing icy-blue eyes, bronzed skin, chiseled features, and wicked tattoos: Prison Bae.
Based solely on that mugshot, Jeremy Meeks was being recruited by the fashion world even before he was released from prison. This week he’s been on a living spree in Cannes. Meeks, 33, skyrocketed straight to the A-List as he mingled with superstar Nicki Minaj on Thursday. Earlier in the week his was seen partying with Paris Hilton and French designer Olivier Rousteing (Balmain).
Three years ago Jeremy Meeks was arrested in Stockholm for possession of a semiautomatic handgun and two extended magazines for the weapons. The Stockholm Police Department posted his mugshot on the Department’s Facebook page. What followed was somewhat bizarre. The gorgeous mugshot lit the fashion world on fire. White Cross Management signed him and he walked the runway for Philipp Plein this fall. The blue-eyed heart-throb made his official fashion modeling debut at New York Fashion Week this year.
Despite a few setbacks on his journey to stardom, Meeks’ extraordinary story is anything but typical for a released felon. Going to prison has been called a life sentence for job prospects. The Center for American Progress reports that 87% of employers check criminal records before making hiring decisions. The law doesn’t allow most employers to have a policy or practice of rejecting all individuals with criminal histories. But “a criminal record is a powerful disincentive.” For felons, lost job opportunities are not the only barrier to re-entering social norms. Felons face high hurdles securing housing, clothing, and other basics that are essential to job stability. Despite Felon Bae’s amazing luck gifted by the genetic and social media gods, 60% of those who go to prison remain unemployed a year after their release. And those who manage to find a job are likely to earn 40% less than they did before prison.
Loss of employment prospects is not the only way a felon will lose. Meeks seems to have avoided the fate of unemployment and he can vote in Sweden. His fate would be very different were he an American. In the United States, criminal conviction triggers the loss of rights including voting disenfranchisement, exclusion from jury duty, and loss of the right to possess firearms. Only two states, Maine and Vermont, allow a person serving time in prison to vote. The remaining 48 states and D.C. prohibit voting while incarcerated. Thirty-five states don’t allow individuals on parole to vote and 31 of those states also exclude people on probation from voting. If you live in Virginia, Kentucky, Iowa, or Florida you will be denied the right to vote if you have a felony conviction; even after you have completed your prison sentence. Eight states disenfranchise certain categories of ex-offenders.
Disenfranchisement disproportionately and overwhelmingly affects black people. 7.7% of African-Americans are disenfranchised. Only 1.8% of all other Americans suffer the same fate.
Acknowledging his extraordinary experience, Meeks told ABC News “I’m in a place where I will be able to provide for my family and really change my life … I feel extremely blessed and thankful.”