At Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, we believe in second chances, especially for those who made their mistakes so many years ago. That’s what Debra* was looking for when she came to one of our intakes this past summer: a fresh start. As a very young woman, Debra went through a rough time in her life. During this period, she struggled with substance abuse. Her addictions resulted in a series of bad choices that left her with criminal convictions in two different counties. With these convictions came punishment, and Debra was required to pay the price for her crimes. Over the years, things started looking up for Debra and she was eventually able to turn her life around. She found a job. She got married and then had two children, leaving her old life decades behind her. In fact, when she came to our office seeking assistance with sealing her criminal record, Project GRACE staff attorney, Carlton Martin, says, “She had not committed a crime in almost 20 years.”
She and her husband both worked, but they were having difficulty financially; their income simply was not sufficient for their family of four. But as Debra searched for new, higher-paying employment, time and again her criminal record kept her from even getting an interview, let alone a better job that would allow her to provide for her family. Although Debra hadn’t had any dealings with the criminal justice system since 1996 and had already paid her debt to society, she was still experiencing the consequences of those past mistakes.
But, with the help of Project GRACE and Carlton Martin, Debra was able to get her record expunged. Now, free from the burden of her past, Debra has the second chance she’s been waiting for. Carlton believes this will give her more opportunities in life. “The expungement will help her get better jobs,” he says. “No past convictions or arrests will show up on her record.” Without this criminal record serving as her first and often only impression to potential employers, those who never would have even looked at her resume before may now look at her and see a dedicated, hardworking mother who will be an asset to their team. They can make their decision based on the person Debra is, rather than on the person she was.
To learn more about Project GRACE, please visit our website.
*Name has been changed