EDITOR’S NOTE: The client’s name has been changed in this story to protect her privacy.
VENICE — Harriet burst through the double doors of the Venice Recreational Center with a new lease on life.
“Somebody, take me to church!” she exclaimed. “I need to thank God; I need to rejoice.”
Harriet was one of about 100 Madison County residents who participated in Second Chance Saturday in September for the chance to quickly have their criminal records sealed or to have their past minor offenses, misdemeanors and other nonviolent crimes permanently expunged from their records. Volunteer attorneys from Alton-based national plaintiff’s law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy and the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation helped start the expungement process for more than 550 cases at the event by allowing attendees to file all the necessary paperwork at once. Through normal channels, the entire process can take four to six months to complete.
Second Chance Saturday took place in the southern part of Madison County to serve historically underrepresented individuals. A similar event in 2016 at the Simmons Hanly Conroy office attracted more than 200 local residents and ultimately helped improve the lives of 118 people by expunging (or making confidential) minor offenses from their criminal records.
“We are incredibly proud to be a part of such an important event that truly gives people a second chance,” Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Ted N. Gianaris said. “People make minor mistakes, but that doesn’t mean those mistakes should keep you from re-entering the workforce and earning a living for your family. They shouldn’t impede you from bettering yourself and your life.”
Prior to attending the event, Harriet spent the last seven years trying to turn her life around. After she was released from prison, she finished coursework to earn her college degree in counseling, conquered a drug habit and kept clean, and focused her energy on finding a job where she could make a difference in young adults’ lives.
“I had lived this hard life for so many years, made so many bad decisions,” she said. “All I wanted was to use my story to help others, change someone else’s life the way mine was changed, and make a difference. But my past followed me everywhere. ”
Harriet was turned down for job after job until recently, when she found an organization that gave her a chance. Now with her criminal record expunged, she finally has the missing piece that will allow her to start over.
“I knew I had to get myself right before I could lead anyone else,” Harriett says. “Now I’m in a spot where I can help other people and I can lead by example.”
In addition to helping participants navigate the expungement and sealing process, a team of volunteers from county agencies helped individuals renew, replace, or correct driver’s licenses; purchase vehicle stickers, register to vote, and find employment.
Local agencies, businesses and organizations that participated in the event included the Madison County Judiciary and State’s Attorney’s Office, the Circuit Clerk’s Office, Madison County Sheriff’s Office, Venice Mayor’s Office, the Illinois Department of Employment Security and the Leadership Council of Madison County. The Dirty Muggs band entertained attendees and McDonald’s of Granite City provided free food and refreshments.
About Simmons Hanly Conroy, LLC
Simmons Hanly Conroy is one of the nation’s largest mass tort law firms. Primary areas of litigation include asbestos and mesothelioma, pharmaceutical, consumer protection, environmental and personal injury. The firm’s attorneys have been appointed to leadership in numerous national multidistrict litigations, including Vioxx, Toyota Unintended Acceleration, BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, DePuy Pinnacle and the Volkswagen Emission Scandal. The firm also represents small and mid-size corporations, inventors and entrepreneurs in matters involving business litigation. Offices are located in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Alton. Read more here.
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