Story about forgiveness after felony causes man to be relieved of battleship volunteering duties

(Source: WECT)
(Source: WECT)
(Source: WECT)
(Source: WECT)
(Source: WECT)
(Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - You first heard from Anthony Shook in March when he was profiled for a story about forgiveness after a felony conviction.

Shook is a Navy veteran who served with the submarine division and suffered severe post traumatic stress once he returned to civilian life to work as a nurse.

A decision Shook made during his time as a nurse resulted in the death of a patient. He was convicted of murder and spent nearly 23 years in prison.

He was released from prison in 2011 and has been unable to find a job, but not for lack of trying. Shook says he has sent in applications for around 800 jobs since.

"To have each one shot down because of the felony was very personal," said Shook.

He began using his time to focus on volunteering with the USO of North Carolina, with his church, and with the Battleship North Carolina, until battleship administrators saw WECT's story on Shook.

A fellow battleship volunteer made WECT aware of Shook's partial dismissal.

Shook had been volunteering with the battleship for nearly a year without incident. He worked on the cleaning and restoration crew, and was eventually permitted to volunteer in the Battleship 101 program and in the gift shop during school visits.

WECT's Alex Guarino spoke with Battleship North Carolina Captain Terry Bragg, who refused an on-camera interview. He explained Shook was told he could continue volunteering in cleaning and restoration but would no longer be allowed to volunteer in aspects that involve interaction with the public.

Bragg said the battleship follows New Hanover County Schools' conditions for employment for all volunteers (see document below). Those conditions state a felony conviction weighs against an applicant being hired.

However, they also state a criminal record check is required.

Bragg confirmed volunteers are not asked about their criminal history and background checks are not conducted for any volunteers.

Shook was made aware he was no longer welcome to participate in volunteer roles requiring public interaction on March 26, and handed in his volunteer badge later that week.

He chose to no longer continue his cleaning and restoration duties out of concern he was no longer welcome.

"It would be awkward with some of the admin folks because of what happened, and how it happened," Shook said. "I'm not sure if it could have been handled better, but I just felt it was better to absent myself altogether."

Shook had no ill words to speak of the battleship employees, though he says he wishes he was made aware of the felony conditions.

"It has been my experience and I'm sure the experience of many, many others that not only in North Carolina but in other states as well. it's once convicted always condemned," said Shook.

He says he will remain a member of Friends of the Battleship because of his commitment to the group's mission.

"The Battleship North Carolina is not only just a historical artifact, it's a history of what the men who served on her and other ships during World War II went through," Shook said. "It's also a memorial to not only the men who died on North Carolina, but the thousands of North Carolinians who gave their lives during World War II.

"Something that I always did when I came up the gangway, I always saluted the flag. The North Carolina is not in commission, so that's not required. But I was asked about it once and I said, 'That's the flag of my country. I'm showing it respect, and I'm honoring the memory of the men and women who continue to serve our nation and die to keep us free.'"

Battleship volunteer and Friends of the Battleship member Tom Jones worked alongside Shook, and had the following statement regarding the incident:

I have had the pleasure of working on the battleship with Tony for several months helping to keep the ship clean for the thousands of visitors to this fantastic site.  He has always shown not only a great work ethic, but brings a positive spirit to those with whom he comes in contact.  Tony has also volunteered with the Battleship 101 program utilizing his medical knowledge and has always shown a willingness to help in any way he could.  I cannot help but be saddened by the fact that his participation in programs at the ship have been limited to any degree.  He will be sorely missed by those of us with whom he has worked.

Jones and other volunteers said they considered quitting after Shook's participation in volunteering was limited, but Shook told them to stay to continue serving the ship and its mission.

"A lot of the guys that I worked with on the battleship were very, very supportive and I've encouraged them to stay with the ship," said Shook.

After finding out he would be limited in his volunteer duties, Shook once again felt the strangling limitations that have followed him since his conviction.

"I was floored. I didn't know what to think," he said. "When I first came out of prison and the (post-traumatic stress), it was interesting how when I was in prison I was able to suppress it. Because if you show weakness in there, you're a dead man. But once I was out, it's like, all the symptoms came back and there were several times I thought about suicide. But with the equine therapy, my faith and talking to several people, it got me thought that."

He said those feelings returned for a period after the incident.

"Those feelings started to come back, and I thought, well, if I can't do anything, what use am I?" Shook said.

On Tuesday, Shook said he felt encouraged by the other volunteer organizations that have embraced him, including the USO of North Carolina, and the Bridge Church of Wilmington.

When asked if he still believes in second chances after so much rejection, he said he does.

"Well, we're in a fallen world, but the one thing that keeps me going is to know that Christ has given me a second chance," Shook said. "That's my hope, and if that's my only hope, the time I spent in prison is very small compared to an eternity with Christ."

Representatives with the Battleship North Carolina said Tuesday afternoon they would send a statement regarding this incident. WECT has yet to receive that statement, but did receive email correspondence from Bragg to Shook. Those emails can be read in the pictures attached to this story.

Will Rikard, executive director at Step Up Wilmington — an organization that works with individuals with barriers to employment to find work and stability — said Step Up believes embracing individuals after they have paid their debt to society is important.

"It is our belief that once individuals have paid their debt to society and sufficed the requirements of our justice system, they should have the opportunity to find good jobs," Rikard said. "As a society, we are all better off when justice-involved individuals are allowed the opportunity to work and move forward with their lives."

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