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On the road to recovery

When Greg Danielson applied for a taxi driver ID card from the city of Medford, he wasn't expecting it to be all that complicated. Times were tough and money was tight, so the owner of ABC Cab offered to take him on as a cabbie.

One week later, Danielson received a letter from the Medford Police Department, denying his request due to two felonies on his record.

Danielson appealed the decision to Finance Director Alison Chan. Her purview limited to double-checking the police findings, Chan denied his appeal, finding that Danielson was convicted for two felonies, one in 1997 for unlawful use of a weapon and another in 2000 for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Undeterred, Danielson appealed his case to the City Council, which on Nov. 17 voted, 5-2, in favor of granting him a taxi driver ID card, or T-card. Thankful for the reprieve, Danielson began his new job as a taxi driver.

"Getting my T-card was a moral victory for me," said Danielson, 33. "My last felony was 11 years ago, I've been doing a lot of growing up ... I've turned my life around, and I'm trying to start again."

Danielson's case is one of five this year in which the City Council overturned the denial of a taxi driver ID card to an individual with felonies on their record.

Chan explained that the majority of licenses are granted, and that while the number of denials has increased in comparison to previous years, it's likely due to a corresponding increase in applications.

"We don't deny a lot of ID cards," she said. "There are well over 100 people who carry taxi IDs in the city of Medford."

Although section 8.425 of the Medford Municipal Code details the requirements for individuals applying to be taxi drivers, the City Council amended the appeals process in May, granting the council more leeway in dealing with cases, allowing them to consider such factors as recovery and anger-management programs, employer testimony, length of time since the conviction, etc.

"The code, by its very nature, is a very sterile set of rules," said City Councilman Bob Strosser, who is a former police officer. "I think by and large it works ... (but) I can sense in a couple of these cases that the finance director and the police chief, if they'd had the latitude, they'd have decided differently. The finance director and the police chief are very constrained in what they can do."

"One size does not necessarily fit all," said Strosser. "I think that everyone has made a mistake in their life ... in their youth, they made a mistake and they paid the price, but how long do they need to keep paying that price?"

Danielson is one example, unable to escape the effects of a crime he committed when he was 18.

"I was in a car with three other people," said Danielson, a high school senior at the time. "And I had a firearm with me. It was reported to police by the person behind me in the back seat that I had pointed the gun at somebody out of the window, which simply wasn't true."

Danielson was arrested and charged with attempted murder, conspiracy to commit attempted murder, unlawful use of a weapon, and conspiring to unlawfully use a weapon. He was offered a plea bargain, and agreed to serve 90 days in prison and three years of probation for unlawful use of a weapon.

Three years later, police raided an apartment he shared with a friend, looking for marijuana. After finding two guns in his closet, he served another 30-day sentence and three years of probation for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

"It was my own fault," he admitted. "I knew better. I enjoyed going to the range. I know I wasn't supposed to have them but I chose to have them anyway."

Christopher Jackson is another cab driver who is dealing with the consequences of decade-old mistakes. Convicted of a robbery charge in 1997, Jackson appealed to City Council after the police turned down his application for a taxi ID.

"I was young and being stupid," said Jackson, speaking about his 1997 conviction. "I haven't been in any trouble since then."

As with Danielson, council overturned the denial, and Jackson will get his ID in January.

Danielson has been trying to turn his life around, majoring in computer graphic design at Rogue Community College until financial troubles forced him to drop out and work odd jobs to survive. He said it is especially difficult for people with criminal records to find a job due to the economy.

"I need to support my family," he said. "It is tough around here, as far as making money ... taxi driving is definitely not for everybody. It's a tough gig, this is a slow time of year. It's a lot of sitting around and waiting at the airport. I read a lot of books."

"It's all right, but I think there are way too many cab drivers out there," said Jackson. "There are some months I'll make $900 and there are some months I'll make $3,000," he said.

Although Jackson is still driving for Valley Cab, Danielson had to quit after a month with ABC Cab, unable to make enough money to support himself and his family. A friend offered him a job remodeling houses, which he hopes will be a more stable source of income.

While Danielson said he was thankful for the opportunity that the council gave him, he also pointed out that people with criminal backgrounds often need a helping hand to stay out of jail and reintegrate into society.

"I have to agree with (the police) in regards to their rules and regulations," he said. "I agree with the original denial ... (but) if we want people to reintegrate into society, we need to give them a chance. I'm certainly not saying give convicted murderers free rein, but there needs to be some sort of balance, some understanding."

Reach reporting intern Nils Holst at 541-776-4368 or email holstn@sou.edu.

Greg Danelson appealed to the Medford City Council in order to get his license to drive a taxi. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell