Thousands turn out for a fresh start

Darian Marshall was looking for a fresh start.

The 41-year-old owns his own refrigerator and air conditioning repair business. But he didn't become an entrepreneur out of choice. A 17-year-old arrest for possession left him with little choice, he says.

"It makes life difficult being unemployed," said Marshall. "That's why I became an entrepreneur."

But like thousands of others who filled the first floor of the Roberto Clemente Community Academy for the fourth annual "Expungement Summit" over the weekend, Marshall still aspires to something better.

The summit, organized by Clerk of Courts Dorothy Brown, included representatives of the state's attorney's office, the public defender's office, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Police Department, among other agencies offering advice on how to clear a past criminal arrest or conviction.

By 11:35, 2,500 people had signed up, organizers said.

Brown said the summit was designed to help streamline the process for people who in the past have been turned away.

"I wasn't pleased with the other summits I have attended," she said. "People were not being serviced properly. They were standing in line waiting to see an attorney, only to find out they were not qualified to get their record expunged."

In the past, the process of expungement could take years. According to Brown, the process has been streamlined to take only three to six months.

At the summit, volunteer attorneys provided same-day information on whether individuals were eligible to file a petition seeking expungement, which must be ruled on by a circuit court judge.

According to Julian Brevard, of the state's attorney's office, expungement seals off a criminal conviction or arrest to all except certain public employers and agencies. "Agencies such as (the Department of Children and Family Services) and the schools are allowed to view the sealed record," he said.

Brevard says the expungement process can "open doors" for people having difficulty getting a job, applying for citizenship, purchasing a home or trying to adopt a child - all of which can be out  of reach for individuals with an arrest record.

"It is really important for them to come to an expungement summit like this so they can get help," he said. "They can contact an attorney to help with the process. Hopefully this can help open doors for them."

Stacey Stringer, 30, has also suffered the hardships that can follow an arrest. Her husband attended the summit hoping to clear a 15-year-old record that has made it difficult for him to support their family, she said.

"It is hard because we have two kids, 8 and 12-years-old, and then we have mortgage payments and car notes," she said.