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Learning How To Expunge A Criminal Record

We’ve all done things we wish we could take back and start over. It’s harder for some than others – especially if that mistake involves a criminal conviction. But some people with a criminal past can wipe the slate clean if enough time has passed. Melange Health Solutions held a seminar on Tuesday to teach locals how to expunge their records in hopes of increasing their chances at employment.

Willie Moore was 27 when he was convicted of larceny and breaking and entering. He paid a big price. There was prison time – two years. And he says he's still paying the price for it since he was released more than 25 years ago.

"I have turned in resumes and stuff of that nature but when it comes to the question of 'Have you been convicted?' I want to be honest when it comes to answering that question so when I answer that question truthfully, then it's like 'uhhh …' I don't hear nothing else from 'em no more."

He’s been able to land a few jobs, but is currently unemployed. Moore would like that to change.  That’s why he attended a seminar Tuesday to learn how he can clear his criminal record. The seminar attracted about 200 residents of the Charlotte Housing Authority.

They had lots of questions for Legal Aid's Cindy Patton, the keynote speaker at the expungement seminar.

Andrea Symes is the community outreach coordinator for Melange Health Solutions. It's a group that focuses on behavioral and mental health, but she says there was great demand from clients who wanted to learn more about expungement. That's because for some, a criminal record was frequently barring them from housing, employment and educational opportunities. 

State laws differ, but in North Carolina, low-level nonviolent felonies or misdemeanors can be expunged after 15 years.

It’s a process that takes about eight months to complete, and can cost roughly $200. Moore left the seminar feeling optimistic.

"I made a mistake and I feel though now I have learned and I have paid my debt to society and I feel that now I would at least like the opportunity, a chance to give back to society," Moore says. 

Not everyone there left so hopeful.

Fernella White served a 30-day sentence more than 15 years ago, when she was a teenager. White was convicted of a misdemeanor assault charge in an incident that involved a weapon.

Even though it was a misdemeanor conviction, she can’t get her record expunged because it’s classified as a violent crime.

"I kind of understand why I haven't been able to have it expunged, because it's an assault charge," White says. "But [it's been] 15 years, that's not who I am, so I don't understand why I'm not able to have another chance with something that happened so many years ago."

White is 33 and works at Bojangles. She wants to have an opportunity to give her family a better future.

"You know with mouths to feed, children, a stupid mistake that was made years before even thinking about having children and now they have to suffer because of one dumb mistake that I made," White says. 

White says she’s thought about pursuing more education and becoming a nurse. But she figures it would be a waste of time. No one would give her a chance.

If that’s true, there are a lot of people like her. The North Carolina Justice Center estimates North Carolina has more than 1.6 million residents who have a criminal record