I'm sorry… But No.

By Kenneth Westberry ’13

I am the “front-door-man,” temporarily, until the new Mission Year volunteer comes in September to relieve me of this position.  Currently, all initial calls and inquiries for help go through me.  Because of this, I am also the “no-man…”

Many people call daily, explaining their regrettable situations of the past; situations that happened 10, 20, even 30 years ago.  Currently in the state of Georgia, if you have been convicted of a crime–regardless if it is a misdemeanor or a felony–it is impossible to get the charge expunged from your record, albeit with some exceptions (i.e. Youthful Offender, First Offender, etc.).  The Georgia Justice Project turns down nearly 95% of all applications and inquiries it receives for a variety of reasons.  This is at no fault to the project, considering our capacity and reach; but, it does show that enormous numbers of ex-offenders legitimately wish to clean their records so they may be able to find stable employment.  This statistic also depicts the necessity of more programs like GJP here in Atlanta, across Georgia and the rest of the nation.

I'm sorry... But No.

On Tuesday morning, I received a call from a man who seemed to be in his mid to late thirties… though voices can be deceiving.  He explained to me that he had been convicted of a felony in his early twenties during one of his summers in college.  Nearly 15 years later, he explained to me that he is still unable to get a job–anywhere.

“I robbed a store man… I was young, I was dumb as hell, man, and my mother and my sisters needed help.”

His purpose for calling was to ask about the new law that has passed.  He explained that he had heard that this law, implemented in July, was geared to expand eligibility for expungement.  He asked if he would be eligible.

By this point, after countless responses by phone and in person I was ready to assume the position.  Despite the fact that this was a phone conversation, I took a deep breath in and deepened my voice to a more serious tone.  I contemplated.  What should I say to him?  I am the ‘NO-MAN’ and regardless of our organization’s heartfelt desire to improve his standard of living, I could punitively say …

”Sorry sir, but according to Georgia Law, regardless of the length of time it has been since you’ve committed your crime, you still will not be able to expunge it from your record.  If you would like, I can suggest that you fill out this pardon application that may or may not (most likely not) be beneficial for future employers to determine whether or not they still wish to hire you in this job market.”

Instead of this harsh response, I wanted to ensure that he understood that we are doing everything we can to fight and fix this injustice.  Yes, I told him no, but we don’t have the power to say yes…yet.  The ‘No-Man’s’ job at the Georgia Justice Project is not only to deny but to inform.  At 95 percent, we are all the “no people” attempting to serve those we can while pressing for change through policy.   It is idealism at its finest.  Even while I knew the truth, I still wanted to motivate him.  I still wanted to let him know that laws are not permanent.


– See more at: http://www.gjp.org/kens-blog/im-sorry-but-no/#sthash.FVPDrUJK.dpuf