Clare Forrister, Staff Writer
March 27, 2015
For people convicted of crimes, judicial punishment may seem like the worst of their troubles. However, even after serving time, people with past convictions can face discrimination for the rest of their lives, whether applying for jobs or looking for a place to live.
“It’s easy to say ‘this person is a criminal’ because they’ve done this one thing, when you don’t know the specifics of the law or what the circumstances were,” said senior Chelsea Yarborough. “It’s important to be a little bit more forgiving.”
Lately, some in the Greensboro community are bringing attention to the difficulties people with criminal backgrounds face when they try to reintegrate into society. To address this problem, the Beloved Community Center has partnered with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to hold Clean Slate Clinics, which help people move on from the marks on their record.
With free legal counsel on how to expunge criminal records, as well as more general education about the issue, the workshops have helped hundreds of community members.
The first clinic in Greensboro was held at BCC on Jan. 5.
“We had over 200 people come out to take advantage of the service,” said Irving David Allen, civic engagement and youth works coordinator at BCC. “Even if folks left without getting an expungement, they were able to get that information which is valuable as well.”
While the lawyers gave one-on-one legal counsel, organizers presented those in the waiting area with information about the issue.
“(We give presentations) so that they can have the information and the language to put to the type of oppression that they are facing in their lives and to connect them to organizations that are doing work around that,” Allen said.
When trying to restart their lives in society, people with criminal backgrounds often face a closed door right away.
“Just think about what it’s like to fill out a job application form, when on the front page of most applications it says ‘check this box if you have committed a felony,’” said junior and Community and Justice Studies major Kiernan Colby. “That immediately creates this stigma that people who’ve committed felonies are incapable of moving on and doing more with their lives.”
People with criminal records, which are often for nonviolent drug offenses or crimes that were committed in their youth, have to deal with many different repercussions of the limited opportunities.
“Work is about more than money,” Allen said. “It’s about dignity and being able to live and be productive. I think a lot of people have had that taken away from them over the years.”
These clinics, and others like them around the country, address the issue of re-entry into society head-on, directly giving marginalized people opportunities to move past the obstacles they face.
“We’re really aiming at uplifting the marginalized voices in our community,” Allen said. “This is just another opportunity to serve our community and give them knowledge and provide a service that can help them advance.”
Connecting with these organizations can also be important for those less directly affected by this issue, including people at Guilford.
“(We can help by) questioning the systems that stigmatize some people as criminals and shut them away from what is considered normal society and by raising awareness,” said Colby. “We should get more involved in what’s going on in Greensboro beyond our campus.”
People from Guilford often work with BCC to take on a wide range of pressing community issues. Yarborough went to the Clean Slate Clinic in January as part of a fellowship with Ignite NC and has worked with BCC before.
“I think it’s a good relationship for both of us to cultivate,” Yarborough said. “I think going to Beloved you learn a lot about … how you can change things and be involved in community process, which is something Guilford can lack, being so far from the community.”
Beloved and other organizations are always looking for volunteers to help them with their important work in the community.