For ex-felons the ability of obtaining gainful employment can be difficult due to the stigma of a criminal conviction; according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study, only 12.5 percent of employers said they were willing to accept an application from someone with a criminal record. On Saturday, Oct. 8 the Steven Williams Foundation in partnership with The Way World Outreach addressed those challenges through an expungement rally at the church in San Bernardino.
Over 600 people participated in the unprecedented event that brought three counties under one roof to help with and process applications for Proposition 47 that reduces non-violent/non-sexual crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, expungements and Certificates of Rehabilitation. Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties sent representatives from their Public Defender’s Offices.
Steven Williams was employed at a well-paying job earning over $12,000 a month for over a year when a coworker discovered he was an ex-con and informed management. Williams was subsequently fired and as a result lost most of his possessions and fell four months behind on his mortgage.
“Prop 47 gives us a reboot and the opportunity to not be stigmatized so that we can get better jobs,” he said. “It allows us to not be afraid when we get pulled over or come into contact with any law enforcement agent, and provides us the freedom that people so often take for granted.”
According to The Way World Outreach Associate Pastor Robert Cuencas, the high attendance rate is testament to the pressing need for such a service.
“This proves that people are taking a vested interest and an active role in self improvement, and shows they have learned from their past indiscretions and walking upon a path of a productive and righteous lifestyle,” Cuencas said. “This is a first step for the people here to get better paying jobs and reach self-sufficiency.”
San Bernardino County Chief Deputy Public Defender Thomas Sone discovered that collaborating with faith-based and non-profit organizations is the most effective means of reaching a widespread population to offer expungement services and Certificates of Rehabilitation.
“We frequently go out into the community to provide legalese, and without partnerships such as these we wouldn’t have as much success or scope,” Sone said. “There are misconceptions about how an expungement works; it doesn’t remove the crime, only masks it, but it does show employers that the effort was made to go through the process and that the applicant is rehabilitated.”
Fernando Ramirez of San Bernardino spiraled out of control on drugs and alcohol as he grieved the death of his grandmother and divorce. His self-destruction cost him his job at Mazda making $90,000 a year when he was convicted of wet reckless and second driving under the influence (DUI) charges. Ramirez admitted there were positions he did not bother applying for because of his convictions.
“Today is a blessing because all of us here are given the chance to better ourselves and this city,” Ramirez, who submitted applications with Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, said. “Now I can apply for other positions, even county positions.”
Margie Mascorro of San Bernardino, a recovering alcoholic, destroyed two marriages, a successful business, and real estate due to alcoholism. She attended the event to submit applications for expungement of felony DUI charges with all three counties in an effort to hit the reset button and increase her opportunities for employment.
Hundreds of stories of convictions that date back decades still haunt participants’ abilities of securing good jobs. The rally offered a renewed sense of closure and hope.
The Way World Outreach Executive Administrator Janet Casas, instrumental in coordinating the event, said a second expungement rally is planned for next year.
“The event was a window into the future of our city being transformed,” she said. “Our team loved being part of seeing hope and gratitude in the face of every person present.”