What’s the Price of a Criminal Record?

13th October 2017
criminal record image of stacks of files

A criminal record is usually a mark of shame for any party. It could be due to a small lapse in judgment when they were young or a deliberate action. Regardless, having this record means one thing: a criminal act was committed and legal punishment were met.

This article was inspired from our local spicy meme, Abang Sado™ when he became viral for assaulting a teacher. From what the news tell us, he’s (or was) employed by the Royal Brunei Armed Forces. As we know, the RBAF and Police force are the only organisations still pensionable i.e. the Government gives retirees monthly paychecks. So if this guy with poor foresight was sacked, he’d lose practically everything he’s worked for (or at least a foreseeable financial future’s worth).

So, imagine one day you were out shopping and realised that there wasn’t enough cash for a Snickers bar. Not wanting to make a second trip, and somehow you brain-farted, you decided to just pocket the chocolate bar when no one is looking. And unfortunately (for you), a staff member saw what you’ve done and stopped you at the exit. So they call the cops and subsequently you were convicted in court for theft. In your mind, it was a small mistake; but how far will this mistake stretch into the future?

What is a Criminal Record?

A criminal record is the data that is entered into a system of people who have committed and been sentenced for a crime in a court of law. The name itself has negative connotations because it presumes (rightly so) past convictions. Depending on record keeping laws, these records may be kept forever.

What’s so bad about having a criminal record?

A while ago, I wrote a piece about the price of an education. Similarly, there is a price to pay beyond fines and jail time for people with a criminal record. Other than social stigma where people look at you strangely, financially you take a hit as well. The stigma is stronger in small communities such as Brunei where everyone seemingly knows everyone and any interesting news go viral pretty quickly.

So the problems you would possibly encounter may be:

  1. Social stigma
  2. Less job opportunities
  3. Low salary
  4. Lacking freedom of movement
  5. Compounding negativity

1. Social Stigma

How would you feel if you heard your acquaintance or colleague was brought to court and convicted of a crime? Would you treat them any differently? Some people would feel justified to judge a person based on rumours, let alone a clear cut criminal case. Perceptions of a person with a criminal record would change and this leads to other problems.

2. Less Job Opportunities

With a criminal record in your name, it’s practically impossible to reach high positions of employment. Higher positions of a managerial role and beyond is usually seen as a position with certain powers. These powers could be with accounting or operational privileges where persons of less than clean backgrounds are considered risky. On the other hand, this is not set in stone and you could get lucky with a lenient (or even careless) employer.

3. Low Salary

Less job opportunities comes hand-in-hand with lessened ability to negotiate pay. Worst is if the employer knows that you have little choice and proceeds to take advantage of that. After all, low pay is better than no pay, right?

4. Lacking Freedom of Movement

Getting sick of all of these limitations and thinking “I’m gonna move far away and start over!” to solve it? Unfortunately, many countries require you to provide a background check to immigrate. Locally, this background check can be applied through our Royal Brunei Police Force. But with a criminal record, do not expect to be able to migrate to a developed country or one with tight security.

5. Compounding negativity

Basically with that little black spot on their records, life essentially stagnates; unable to improve. Sometimes the only people who will hang out with you are those in similar positions. Plus jobs may also be unsatisfactory. So with all the things mentioned above, we can probably imagine why there are repeat offenders when it comes to criminal activity.

So the Price of a Criminal Record is?

Taking all the above into consideration, let’s use a 25-year-old graduate with some work experience as an example. If his potential salary is roughly $2,000 (not including promotions and pay raise) and somehow he got in trouble with the law, it’s likely he’d qualify for minimum wage salaries of around $500-ish. That’s at least $1,500 lost! And assuming he’s going to work until 60 years:

$1,500 x 12 (months) x 35 (60 minus 25 years) = $630,000

Just by making this small mistake, the potential loss in pay could be at least $630,000! If you factor in things like promotions, pay raises and so on, it could probably reach $1 million in a lifetime!

Note: This is hypothetical and real life will likely play out differently.

But what if it’s just a once in a lifetime mistake!?

Unfortunately, the laws are in place and a country that doesn’t play by it falls into anarchy. However, there are a few silver linings for you to get a leg up if a record is stuck to you. Being professional and not letting your past define you is the best way forward.

1. Freelance

If you have marketable skills such as design, craft (woodwork or metalwork) and so on, you can try your hand in working as a freelancer. Don’t have any skills? You can learn skills like coding online or ask to be an apprentice for a craft.

2. Entrepreneurship

Are you street smart and have good sense of trade? Why not try your hand in running a business? The boss won’t mind a record if you’re the boss.

3. Special talents

Are you gifted with musical or theatrical talents? Directors and producers may overlook past transgressions if you’re “that good”. But mind you, this is very, very subjective. And if you somehow become famous, people will definitely dig up your past to throw in your face.


A criminal record is a dead end for many careers and will effectively prevent you from starting some. Regardless of the deed, a record is a record and will stay with you for a long time unless the law changes. Hypothetically, as a young graduate, you stand to lose at least $600,000 in pay not counting other increments. There are ways around the stigma but that road is full of potholes and sharp drops; but nonetheless, it’s a silver lining. With so much at stake, it definitely pays to be mindful. And enough foresight any time urges of beating someone up or taking something illegally comes to mind.

“One of my friends once saw another guy’s (criminal) record and said, ‘Look, this guy is a born troublemaker, just a loser.’ I had to tell him, ‘No, that’s my record-and it doesn’t include my juvenile history.”

— Mike Tyson

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