On Saturday, September 9, 2017, A2E held its first Expungement Fair at Bethany, Detroit. An expungement is a court-ordered process in which the legal record of an arrest or a criminal conviction is “sealed,” or erased in the eyes of the law. When a conviction is expunged, the process may also be referred to as “setting aside a criminal conviction.” People with criminal records may have difficulty becoming employed. At the A2E Expungement Fair, with the help of volunteer attorneys, 72 individuals were able to begin the process to get a clean slate.
Bethany is no stranger to community involvement and service. As part of Acts 2 Enterprise (A2E), the congregation hosts summer sports camps/VBS, a Back-to-School event, and has been training people in its Jobs for Life program for years.
It was the Jobs for Life program that sparked the idea for the Expungement Fair. Rev. Chris Bodley said, “The class often reiterated the need of overcoming obstacles in one’s past. Misdemeanors and a felony are very imposing obstacles to employment, so 1.5 years ago I went to an orientation to find out what would be the components for hosting an Expungement Fair.”
Rev. Bodley contacted one of the women from Outer Drive Faith, whose sorority actively engages in the process, and she connected him to Lake Shore Legal, a firm which assists in such matters as expungements. Rev. Bodley and the firm had a few meetings to talk about their vision and the scope of the fair and, because they shared common desires and vision, a partnership was established.
Bethany was a great venue for the fair because it is blessed with classroom space and a gym. Their biggest concern was finding a way to make sure that the message about the fair was being circulated as widely as possible so that people would be able to take advantage of the outreach. They used Bethany’s Back-to-School event to pass out fliers. They also shared fliers with their Child Development Program, contacted a city council person to have it placed on the message board, and canvassed gas stations and the community. Rev. Bodley also produced a short video to help publicize the event.
On the day of the fair, some of Bethany’s members served as greeters; others handed out snacks and water bottles to those waiting in the gym to be seen by an attorney; and others yet filled out intake forms and sat with each group of ten who had received their ticket.
Rev. Bodley expresses his thankfulness for the outcome: “I saw the hand of God at work when the Lake Shore legal team informed me that 11 attorneys had contacted them and said they would be available to help. A2E provided lunch for them but the work was pro bono. The attorneys gave up 4 hours on a Saturday to help people they did not know. I thought that was truly the favor of God.”
Elizabeth Lewis, one of Bethany’s members, shared how one of the residents was in tears because she had been told by the attorneys that they could not help her at that time, since she was short by 2 months of 5 years for an expungement to be initiated (there are qualifications that must be met before applying. Learn more here). When Lewis shared, “The good thing is that you showed up and now you know that you only have to wait 2 months and then your life will change,” the woman smiled, dried her eyes and said, “You are so right.”
In another scenario, Lewis shared how a couple of residents became irritable and negative because they thought people were trying to take advantage of them. Once they completed the process, they came back, apologized, and thanked Bethany’s members for helping them.
At the fair, Bethany distributed fliers of its 2nd Sunday service and its upcoming Jobs for Life class. As a result, three people registered for the class.
A2E plans to have another Expungement Fair at Bethany in the Spring.
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