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On Wednesday morning, we completed the necessary paperwork on behalf of the eligible clients and filed the expunction petitions with the courts. After the last petition was filed, our group gathered in a circle to reflect on the events of the past few days. We discussed the difference we felt we had made in the clients’ lives, as well as the difference they had made in ours.

The responses to the first part of the question were varied. In the best cases, the clients had been able to clear part or all of their criminal records, meaning that they would now be free to find a better job, a better place to live, and/or complete their education. These students could see the empowering effect that a clean record would have on their clients’ lives. In contrast, some had mostly seen clients who did not qualify for relief under the narrow provisions of the law, and they were frustrated with the statute’s exclusion of so many people who had paid their debt to society and yet were still being punished—haunted—by their criminal records. The students recognized the progress being made in comparison to a few years ago, when no expunctions were available to adults, and they hoped that the law would continue to expand and include more people in the future.

The difference that the clients had made in our lives was less concrete, but very significant, and it was felt by all of us. Their resilience in the face of adversity and exclusion from the rest of society was inspiring (and also heartbreaking), and it put the everyday troubles of law school into perspective. It becomes a little harder to complain about a lack of coffee or too much reading when we take for granted our access to basic resources (safe and affordable housing, reliable transportation, etc.) that seem worlds away for many of these clients. Even the dreaded legal job market pales in comparison to the severely restricted employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated people.

We all felt more appreciative of the freedoms and privileges we enjoy as law students and future attorneys; and we were reminded that using our privileged access to the legal system for the betterment of those who have been excluded is the most rewarding and meaningful work we can do.

Posted by Frederick E. Benz (Evan) on Fri. March 14, 2014 10:18 AM
Categories: Spring Break 2014 (Eastern, Expunction)

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