Second Chance for Non-Violent Offenders

When my sister, Jerri, was 29, she broke into Mom and Dad’s house and stole a TV which, as the story goes, she sold for drugs. Mom reported the theft. Jerri was arrested for larceny, convicted, and received a suspended sentence and probation. The felony conviction can be verified as the state of North Carolina considers this a matter of public record and anyone can Google it for free. Which, BTW, I have because this being my family, one can never be too sure where the facts end and the fiction begins.

Jerri’s the one who says it was a TV. I find that hard to believe. The crime for which she was convicted was “larceny, amount in excess of $200.” Were 14″ TVs even worth $200 twenty years ago?  Because I sure don’t see her hauling the 27″ family job with built-in cabinet out of the house by herself. We’re talking pre-flat screen. That baby weighed about as much as a baby elephant. Even Jerri admits the details are a bit murky. A head injury, ECT treatments, drugs, and mental illness have all taken a toll on her memory. Rest in peace, little brain cells. The truth has likely died with you.

The episode happened during a time when the folks were in denial about Jerri’s mental illness. Jerri wasn’t getting treatment and was self-medicating. It’s likely that had she been effectively treated, she’d never have committed this crime. The same can be said for so many offenders, many in our prisons instead of hospitals where they might actually get help. Some of you have also shared your stories of felony convictions directly related to mental illness here at the blog.

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So I’m hoping what I’m about to share is really good, potentially life-changing news. North Carolina, and a handful of other states, have just passed a new law, effective December 1, 2012, that allows for expunction of first-time nonviolent misdemeanors and low-level felonies 15 years after completion of an individual’s sentence. Expunction means your record would be cleared. Background checks will reveal nothing about your crime. It’s a clean slate, a second chance. Thanks to Lynn at The Good Will Hunting Paralegal for bringing this to Jerri’s attention.

There is a form that must be completed and submitted to the court of clerk in the county in which the offense originally occurred. There is also a $175 fee but those who are indigent can get the fee waived by filing a separate petition. The details and forms can be found in the basic guide provided at the NC Second Chance Alliance site. The NC Second Chance Alliance is a statewide alliance of advocacy organizations, service providers, faith-based organizations, community leaders and interested citizens that have come together to achieve the safe and successful reintegration of adults and juveniles with criminal records by promoting policies that remove barriers to productive citizenship.

At the time my parents filed charges against Jerri, I was actually supportive of the action. The theft wasn’t Jerri’s first time breaking the law but she’d never been charged before because my parents had worked diligently to keep things out of the system. This drove me nuts as a teenager. I did not understand Jerri was ill. I thought she was choosing to make our lives hell. Mom said Jerri was hanging out with the wrong crowd. They were a bad influence. She was acting out to get even with Mom. And I thought my parents sucked at parenting. I mean, how was Jerri supposed to learn right from wrong if Mom and Dad were always bailing her out? If she never got to experience the consequences of her actions? Knowing mental illness was at play has completely changed my perspective.

People dealing with mental illness sometimes do things they would never do in their right minds. I understand that now. I also understand how a felony haunts you for the rest of your life. In North Carolina, 92% of employers conduct criminal background checks and applicants with criminal records are 50% less likely to receive a call back. Jerri hasn’t worked in over 15 years. And as much as I’ve encouraged her to apply, there’s a part of me that acknowledges how unlikely she is to be hired. Most applications ask if you’ve ever committed a felony. And as I’ve mentioned, its a quick and easy Internet search to find out. Even housing applications ask. Jerri was recently denied housing in a safer community because of a felony she committed OVER 20 YEARS AGO. For stealing from her parents. Okay, so that doesn’t make it any less wrong, but its not like she held up a bank. Or a 7-Eleven. There are also more than 900 state and federal laws that deny North Carolinians a wide range of privileges and rights based on a criminal record. For example, the right to vote.

I’m very excited about this opportunity for Jerri to potentially clear her record. We’re about to initiate the process. I’ll keep you posted . . .

Photo credit: anjan58 / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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10 Comments on “Second Chance for Non-Violent Offenders”

  1. It’s actually thanks to my wonderful supervising attorney, Helen Parsonage 🙂 Because I’m not a lawyer and can’t give legal advice, I explained Jerri’s situation, and she told me about the new law. I think this is awesome, and wish you both Godspeed in getting this situation resolved.

    Love,
    Lynne

  2. Denise A says:

    That’s great news about this new law! I hope it will help make things easier for Jerri.

    As I’m sure I’ve mentioned at some point in the past, I didn’t understand my brother while I was growing up and preferred to play at friends houses instead of home. It wasn’t until years later that I underwood his health issues which included a mental illness among a couple other issues. Once I was an adult and appreciated him for who he was, I spent extra time with him–like before Christmas, I would pick him up and take him Christmas shopping or have him over for dinner.

    This was years before I was diagnosed-so with my helping him out and doing stuff with him, it helped me appreciate all the things people have done for me as well. Including you, Terri; I remember you coming over to help me organize some of my filing among other things. So thank you for that.

    • Wow! The days we spent organizing your place seem a long time ago. It was my pleasure.

      I think one of the hardest things about mental illness is the symptoms seem so integrated into the patient’s personality. It’s really difficult to separate the illness from the person. The NAMI family-to-family class really helped me to understand that. How is your brother now?

      • Denise A says:

        Those days you helped me out does seem to have been a long time ago. I moved back to MI in spring, 2006 and it seems that it was at least a couple years before then that you helped. I was diagnosed in 2000 and it was at least 2-3 years after that before I felt like I was kind of on my feet again… So maybe sometime around 2003-2004?

        As for my brother, he is no longer with us. After multiple attempts over the years, he finally did commit suicide back in 1987 when he was 31. He had had 2-3 good years prior to this last attempt but once the depression started again, I guess he felt he had enough and gave up. I know that, at least for me, I wasn’t totally surprised that it happened.

      • I’m sorry to hear about your brother. So tragic. He was very young and mental illness was so misunderstood back then. Still is. But I do think care is improving. Not as quickly as I’d like.

    • Denise A says:

      Progress in Mental Health HAS progressed, especially when looking back to when my brother was younger and spent time in psych hospitals for longer stays and it never seemed to help much [he was 4 years older than me and his symptoms of depression started at a pretty young age]. I didn’t get my official diagnosis until I was 39 [but had depressive symptoms before then]. And in my hospitalizations, it seemed that I had at least somewhat more control as to what my treatment options were. I was hospitalized 4 times that first year and once more a few years later; initially for about 10-14 days down to just a few days for the last one. Though after moving back to MI, I was in a partial program in 2008 [where I was there for various group and individual care from 9-3 every week day for about 3 1/2 weeks].

      Though there still needs a lot of work to be done to improve mental health care as well as with the stigma associated with it.

  3. Linda says:

    Terri,
    I am very happy to hear this good news. I hope this will open new doors for Jerri.

    LWS

    • Thanks, Linda. Jerri is continuing to love the plants you gave her. She was able to identify all but one online and read up on care instructions. Such a wonderful thing you did!


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