Expungement Process Event Gives Hundreds A Second Chance
Story and Photos By Raoul Dennis
The baby strollers and toddlers with their parents and family members in the halls of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden’s Worship Center were just another sign as to why so many people were there in the first place.
They wanted to leave the past behind and make things better for their families.
Just like George Blackmale. He was one of the nearly 500 people at the FBCG Expungement Event July 27 to get his felony record closed.
“I have had good jobs before all this,” Blackmale says. “I have always had good jobs and I had government jobs, too.” But the later arrest changed everything.
“I heard about [the event] from my cousin who knew I needed to get my record cleared,” he says. “I decided it was worth it to come down and see if I could get it removed.”
He’d been in front of lawyers, social workers and others for four hours. He says it was worth it.
“All the paperwork is done. All the paperwork I need to take to the court is done and it was all free. I’m hoping that everything will go smoothly at the courts at this point. Getting this done will hopefully get me back to the types of job that I’m used to,” Blackmale says.
The Washington, D.C. resident said he was impressed with the resources and services at FBCG.
And for good reason: FBCG partnered with legal, professional and financial services professionals, state and county judicial leaders and employment counselors to make the event as comprehensive as it was effective.
“We wanted to provide not only expungement opportunities but resources as well,” says Darlene Gamble Director of the Legal Ministry at FBCG. Her ministry organized the event. “We have a food and clothing distribution, all within FBCG, civic engagement and prayer ministries and members of the Maryland Bar Association and community legal services who have volunteered their time to help determine what can be expunged and what cannot.”
Determining what can be expunged is more than half the battle.
“There is a statute that indicates those charges that may or may not be expungeable,” says Bridgett Smith, an attorney who is the assistant director of the FBCG legal ministry. She says the type and date of the felony are factors. “Some of them are typically misdemeanors and minor felonies. Also there may be a time lapse associated with it so depending on how long ago the offense occurred may determine if and when it can be expunged. Some are based on the year and some are based on the severity of the charge.”
[For a listing of the types of felonies that are expungeable and more click here]
Smith says that while expungement doesn’t wipe the record, it does make it so that the record is not visible.” There are situations where the court can be asked to open one’s record – such as with an application to join the military. “Typically, expungement takes it off your record so that if your records are pulled an employer or a housing renter would not see those on your record. It’s important to get anything you can get off your record, removed.”
There were over 300 people pre-registered for the event. Nearly 200 more showed up unannounced bringing the total to some 498.
“The need for this is so great,” Gamble says.
Judge ShaRon M. Kelsey and Judge Jared M. McCarthy both of the Circuit Court tabled at the event.
“We have a stake in this,” Judge Kelsey says. “We are citizens too. We are interested in what happens to our community. What’s better for our community is better for us, better for the court and better for everybody.”
Before becoming a Judge Kelsey was an attorney for 25 years. In those days, she worked trying to help people get things off their record.
“Those people who would sit in front of me world tell story after story after story: ‘I can’t get a job, I can’t get an apartment, I need my CDL license,’” Kelsey says. “These things affect the whole community because if they can’t get jobs and support themselves and their families then they are back in front of us again. That’s not what we want. We are judges but we don’t want that.”
Judge McCarthy says second chances are important.
“Everyone needs a second chance. We want people who have had that one and done kind of event on their record to have the opportunity to start anew,” McCarthy says.
He says that there are some felonies that currently don’t fall within the possibility for expungement but could. “That’s for the policy makers to decide.”
For now, it’s an opportunity to renew for those that expungement works for.
“The goal is to make sure that people who have made a mistake to get an opportunity to change and show that this shouldn’t haunt me for the rest of my life,” he says.
It’s also an inspiration.
“It’s encouraging. People are encouraged by people who want to help them, to reinvest in them and not sweep them aside,” Kelsey says. “I had a gentleman here today who said that ‘because of what we have done, we have burned a lot of bridges. Sometimes, by the time we have come around to our senses, our families are done with us. We have nowhere else to go.’ He was excited to get this support.”
Expungement events are a growing trend across municipalities. As the judicial system continues to process thousands of people each year, many families become destabilized and economically stranded when a misdemeanor or felony haunts the record of a family member – especially those who are at or near peak earning years.
Although the event was a first for FBCG, they have been occurring for years.
“This has been an ongoing process – the state’s attorneys do them, the county executive has been doing them,” McCarthy says.
Kettering Baptist Church near Croom Station Road in Upper Marlboro will play host to an expungement event January 18, 2020.
As the church parking lot finally began to empty, a recent graduate of Bowie State University spoke with a friend he supported who was there to get his record expunged. “I believe in second chances,” he said asking not to be identified. “It’s so good that FBCG is doing this. People need to get a second chance.”
For George Blackmale, a family man, it’s critical.
“That record really messes things up for you. This felony messed my whole life up. This will help me and my family,” he says. “If this opportunity presents itself to anyone out there that’s in the situation that I’m in, take it. It’s the best thing going. If it works, make it work for you and keep on pushing forward.”