The words, “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way!” are stenciled on the far office wall of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic’s Expungement Help Desk. These words also comprise a message we try to convey to those who step through our doors in the basement of the City County Building. Our visitors are ready to leave their past behind in search of a second chance. Perhaps they are unable to find a good job or a nice apartment to call home. Or perhaps they are prevented from seeking educational opportunities for career and life advancement.
Whatever their situation, thanks to our Project GRACE program (Guided Re-Entry Assistance & Community Education), those with criminal records can come see us for assistance with expungements. We work with them to gather their criminal record information and to evaluate their eligibility based on the kind of crimes on their record (not all are expungeable) and how much time has passed, among other factors. If they are eligible, we can also help them to draft the necessary court documents to file for expungement. Although this particular work can often be done without the representation of an attorney, the process can be difficult and intimidating. That is why our Help Desk exists: to help guide people down what might otherwise be a murky path.
When they first come to us, our visitors walk in tentatively and with all kinds of misconceptions as to what it’s going to take to make their criminal record “go away.” But after they spend some time talking with me or with one of our volunteers, they are able to leave our office better informed of their next steps and with a sense of hope. And, very often, with court documents in hand.
Our volunteers, usually students, are trained up quickly to work at the Help Desk. We would be lost without them. Many times, their experience working at the Help Desk even impacts their vocational aspirations. The tangible demonstration of God’s grace is so evident in what we do and is unlike any other “work experience” most have had that their time volunteering for us often pushes them toward a related career.
Nothing makes our day quite like a previous visitor circling back to tell us about the job they were able to obtain, the field trip they were able to take with their child, or the grandchild they were able to gain foster care of as a result of having expunged their criminal record. In short, expungements change the lives of real people, allowing them to move on from a mistake they made many years earlier.
And here at the Clinic’s Expungement Help Desk, we consider it a privilege to be a part of such stories—a story that God is continuing to write for them just as He is writing a story for each one of us. To Him be the glory!
To learn more about our Project GRACE or our Expungement Help Desk, please visit our website.
For the month of May, we will be highlighting Project GRACE and our Expungement Help Desk, unique client stories, national media coverage of the work being done by our staff, and the importance of the Second Chance Law for the flourishing of our communities.