By Deborah M. Walker
LANSING, MICHIGAN — Ryan James sat in his truck patiently waiting for the City of Lansing Expungement Clinic and Community Resource Fair to begin. James said he went to the fair to have a felony conviction from 1999 expunged from his record. Having the felony on his record has hindered his employment opportunities and made it difficult to find work, James confessed. While trying to get his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), James discovered his felony was still a major barrier to obtaining a well-paying job.
James looked frustrated as he explained how the expungement process was costly and timely. Expungement is the process of having a criminal conviction sealed or removed from state and federal records. He attended the free City of Lansing Expungement Clinic and Community Resource Fair because getting a lawyer to assist during the expungement process is expensive.
“It was about three thousand dollars to hire a lawyer to get my record expunged. When I saw the advertisement, I thought this would be a great opportunity to come to try to get information regarding my eligibility,” James explained.
A SECOND CHANCE
Amanda O’Boyle, Assistant City Attorney for the City of Lansing, helped organize the event and agrees that getting a criminal conviction expunged can be costly.
“There is a cost to get a copy of your certified conviction. There is a cost to file in court. There is a cost to go get fingerprinted, and then on top of that, there is a fifty-dollar fee that you have to pay to the Michigan State Police to run a criminal background check,” O’Boyle proclaimed.
Including the cost of an attorney, the fees can be unaffordable for some. The expungement clinic aimed at having those fees waived to give those with a conviction, a second chance. There were many perks to attending the fair including free fingerprinting from the Michigan State Police, and the City of Lansing Police Department. Some other benefits to attending the fair included having the City of Lansing pay for the cost of the Michigan State filing fee, if a complete application was turned in at the fair, O’Boyle explained.
A FRESH START
Carol Carlisle-Bradford was unsure of the cost of having an expungement completed because she had never tried to have her record cleared, she confided. She came to the clinic hoping to get some help with the conviction.
Unsure of how the expungement would affect other aspects of her life, Carlisle-Bradford said “I’ve dealt with it because I didn’t think I could get it expunged until I heard about this on television. I came to the event with the hopes of gaining new job opportunities.”
Kelly Terberg, who attended the fair, felt the effects of her felony conviction in every area of her life. She said having a felony conviction has had an impact on the quality of her life including housing and jobs.
“I’ve had trouble with housing. I’ve gotten fired from jobs after they found out about the felony, after being accepted for the position. I’ve had trouble with just life in general, basically keeping my head up through all of this, especially since getting out of prison and staying out of trouble even more,” Terberg admitted.
Terberg claims that living with a criminal record can lead to more crimes because of the lack of opportunities available for felons and those with convictions. It is difficult to stay out of trouble because having a felony makes starting over nearly impossible, explained Terberg.
“It draws you back into that life and it becomes like a depression. It tears you down completely,” Terberg said.
For Terberg, having her felony conviction expunged is the key to a normal and prosperous life. Without a felony on her record more opportunities in the job and housing market will be made available, and she will no longer feel as if her back is against the wall.
“I’d be able to have a better life for me and my son. I’d be able to better provide for him and feel more secure and not have to look over my shoulder as to how I’m going to get the next meal or whatever it is. I’d be able to actually live a humane normal life like I should have been doing before, but life happens,” Terberg said.
THERE ARE RESOURCES AVAILABLE
Terberg’s situation is common. Criminal convictions do not just hinder job opportunities, all aspects of life are inhibited. O’Boyle said that expungement would open the door to a slew of new opportunities including Section 8, Financial Aid, and student loans.
There were other organizations at the event to help with the cost of legal expungement. Amber Paxton, with the City of Lansing Office of Financial Empowerment, said her organization was there working with the Financial Empowerment Center, to help with court debt.
“We are a city organization that is looking for some grant money to pay debts. If the thing keeping people from getting expunged today is a debt to the court, we have grant money from the Nation League of Cities that we’ll use to pay that debt in most situations,” said Paxton.
According to Paxton, people were relieved to have assistance with alleviating financial barriers that have kept them from having their records expunged.
“I had one gentleman tell me ‘This is the only thing keeping me from getting a job’ and now he’ll be able to get a job,” Paxton claimed.
Even if financial assistance is not required and a person does have employment, having a clear criminal record is a good closure moment said O’Boyle.
“You served your time; you did all the things that you were supposed to do. At some point that crime and that conviction should stop haunting you,” argued O’Boyle.
Not every conviction is eligible for expungement. O’Boyle stated the nature of the crime and the length of time since the criminal conviction(s) helped to determine eligibility for expungement. Also, any intervening conviction(s) will play a factor in the process.
“Say you have to wait three years, and then two years in you get another conviction for something else, the clock starts over, and you have to start that waiting period again,” informed O’Boyle.
Certain crimes are not eligible for expungement said O’Boyle. If the maximum penalty for the crime is life in prison, expungement is not allowed. Also, drunk driving convictions do not qualify for expungement. The drunk driving rule is set to change in the fall, but O’Boyle said currently drunk driving convictions are not eligible.
Dara Mayhoe, who attended the expungement clinic, did not see her convictions automatically disappear after seven years. Going to the expungement clinic she felt empowered to finally get the resources she needed to have her conviction expunged.
“When I saw that it was available, I just literally jumped up from my desk. I was at work, and I heard that it was going on and I came at the last hour. I felt very empowered knowing that there was something set up, strategically planned, for people like me who need to put those convictions behind us so that we can move on in our lives with confidence in the areas that we would like to serve in,” said Mayhoe.
Mayhoe was not able to get all of her convictions addressed. The expungement clinic was for crimes within the Ingham County 54-A District Court jurisdiction only. However, she was able to get all the paperwork needed to have her conviction within the 54-A District Court cleared. Since nearly two decades had passed without any convictions, Mayhoe believed she was in an optimal position to clear her record.
“That was one confidence I had when I sat down with the attorney. He looked at me and he said, you know even though your situation is a bit complex, it shouldn’t be a problem at all because you qualify for every criterion… That made me feel good because it’s been twenty years since I’ve had any convictions. That in itself is empowering,” Mahoe admitted.
Mahoe said her experience at the expungement center was a positive one. She stated that she now has all the documents needed to progress the expungement process further.
“They were so helpful. I have all the paperwork that I need. All of my fingerprints and everything. I literally just need to go to the actual court and hand over those documents,” Mayhoe exclaimed.
In addition to the free fingerprinting Mayhoe received at the expungement clinic, she was able to consult with an attorney for free. Mahoe raved as she spoke about the helpful staff. They made sure she had the correct documents, and they were filled out correctly, she informed.
“It was an easy process. It was a lengthy process, but it was very well streamlined,” Mayhoe said.
Mayhoe confessed that although she has convictions on her record, they do not hinder her job opportunities. Years ago, she became an entrepreneur and the obstacles to employment were no longer in her way. She is currently the co-owner of a local tree care company, Wiseman Tree Experts, and the owner of a new business she started in 2019 called LuvCovers.
“LuvCovers is the parent company of my creative work and initiatives. My goal is to use fashions, my book, CD, poems, etc. to help women grow into the best version of themselves, especially after trauma [or] life-changing events,” said Mayhoe.
AFTER THE FAIR
“More steps are needed after the clinic. Once the paperwork is turned in there will be a hearing date, a petition, and the final argument to the judge to have the expungement completed. We are doing our best to have attorneys volunteer to help with that so that people feel confident when they go to court that they’re not doing it alone,” said O’Boyle.
“The City Council and the Mayor wanted a way to bring social equity into the city of Lansing and we kind of batted around a bunch of different ideas and stumbled upon the concept of an expungement clinic… From a social equity standpoint, having a conviction removed from your record can open a lot of doors,” said O’Boyle.
No matter what the case, the City of Lansing Expungement Clinic and Community Resource Fair had something to offer everyone. The turnout exceeded expectations, said O’Boyle. One hundred and sixty people pre-registered for the event, and during the morning session, there were an additional fifty walk-ins. The afternoon session brought more people to the doors and there were about three hundred people who attended the fair in total.
There were many resource organizations in attendance. If an expungement was not needed, other help such as utility assistance from Lansing Board of Water and Light, The Ingham County Land Bank, mobile COVID-19 vaccination station and a table for children filled with crayons, books and paper, and so many others were there to assist the community, O’Boyle added.
O’Boyle said that the event was the first of its kind, but she hoped the city would be able to host more expungement clinics and resource fairs in the future.
“It’s just a really great opportunity and the hope is that the community sees the value in it too and they also come to the city and say this was a good thing to do let’s do it again,” stated O’Boyle.
Mayhoe said the expungement clinic was a much-needed resource and recommend its services to others who have convictions.
“I would even say that it would be a shame for someone to need a resource like that and not go,” encouraged Mayhoe.
The City of Lansing Expungement Clinic and Community Resource Fair took place on Friday, September 10, 2021, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Letts Community Center located at 1220 W. Kalamazoo Street, Lansing MI, 48915.