Telling Our Stories The Record Clearance Project plans to feature many of its students and clients talking about the experience of working together, and how the Record Clearance Project changed them. A few stories are here; we plan to add video and more stories soon.
Telling Our Stories (Brian Sams, Student) In many ways, the Record Clearance Project launched Brian Sams into the law enforcement career he began six months ago as an officer for the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office. "It really started with that program," he said. "It was a great opportunity to get some experience in the community. It opened the door." He expected that entering RCP would help improve his listening and interviewing skills, teach him to pay more attention to detail and become a better writer and researcher. He knew that he would finish the program with a stronger knowledge of the criminal justice system. But he didn't expect that the experience would shift the way he thinks of people who commit crimes. "It gave me the perspective that not everyone with a record is bad," he said. "People can change. There are still people who deserve to be in jail, but also people who deserve a second chance." One of those people who deserved a second chance was an Emergency Medical Technician who had been hooked on drugs by an abusive parent. Now, clean and sober, she wanted to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse, but knew she wouldn't be able to get into nursing school with her record. Brian, 25, worked with her through all phases of the Record Clearance Project, detailing in the petition what she learned from her criminal past and how she wanted to turn her life around. "I helped her clear her record and she's on her way to becoming a Registered Nurse," Brian said. "Wow. I helped change someone's life." Brian is already noticing how the RCP experience has helped him in his new job, where he works with jail inmates. He sees people going in and out of jail and hopes he can help them. "I treat them not just as another person going into jail," he said, "but a person who can change and make their lives better." Brian Sams:
Telling Our Stories (RJ, Client) For RJ, finding a job at a local clothing store was a godsend. After being turned away from other employers, she had finally landed a steady job with a possibility of becoming a supervisor. "And then the record came back," she said. She was told, "We can't hire you." The store's background check revealed a past that she was trying to move away from, including a conviction of petty theft when she was homeless. She had shoplifted shampoo, conditioner, lotion and socks from a discount store. "I could never get a real job because I had this record over my head," she said. Her rap sheet also included a DUI and domestic violence. She struggled to survive with odd jobs here and there, but the turnaround came during training at the San Francisco Job Corps. She applied for housing and six months later she was living in her own apartment, which fueled her desire to go to college and pursue a career. "I wanted a career," she said. "I didn't want just a job." She contacted the Record Clearance Project after hearing about it from a friend. Ms. R assumed she would have to find a lawyer and pay thousands of dollars that she didn't have to get her record expunged. She shared her story with an RCP law student who would help her make her case. Her father was a heroin addict who was in and out of prison; her mother also was a drug addict, as well as an alcoholic and abusive. At age 13, Ms. R began running away to avoid her mother's abuse. She grew up in foster homes and group homes, and sometimes stayed with relatives or friends. By age 18, she was figuring out life on her own. "I didn't have anyone to help me out," she said. "I just had to do the best I could." At her court hearing on May 5, Ms. R not only was able to get her record cleared, but received encouragement and praise from Judge Julie Emede. "She was amazed at all that I went through," Ms. R said. "It made her feel good to know that my life was changing." Today, Ms. R, 33, is married and a student at Gavilan College in Gilroy. She is working toward a career that will give her the opportunity to work with homeless teens. "I just want to be able to show teens that they're not alone," she said. RJ:
Telling Our Stories (Lisseth Castillo-Valencia, Program Coordinator) Lisseth Castillo-Valencia is a first generation Mexican-American, who grew up in east San Jose, sharing a one-bedroom apartment with her mom, two sisters and brother. Her family lived in poverty for the majority of her upbringing. She began working when she was 14 to help support the family. The first in her family to go to college, "the thought of law school seemed like a far-fetched aspiration growing up, since we don't have lawyers in our family," Lisseth said. "I went to De Anza and got a degree as a paralegal." Just 21 at the time, Lisseth couldn't get a job as a paralegal and decided to go on with her schooling. She entered San Jose State University where she heard about the Record Clearance Project. "When I started, I didn't know what to expect," she said. "But the Record Clearance Project changed the way I saw people." Assigned to a client, she would first look at the file. She would see a rap sheet with crimes that included possession of drugs, robbery, burglary or petty theft and imagine what the person was like. And then she would meet the client. "You get the person in front of you and they start talking to you. I realized that they were nothing like I had imagined," Lisseth said. "You learn that what's on paper is not a reflection of who they are as a person now. It's a reflection of the mistakes they made." Digging into their cases, Lisseth and her case partner spent more than double the hours required to complete their internship, earning them SJSU's Martin Luther King Jr. award for Human Rights in 2013. The challenges that her six clients had to overcome still inspire her. She heard stories of drug addiction, physical abuse from spouses and desperate childhoods. She also heard how they give back to their community by joining service organizations and donating blood. "People can change and turn their lives around," she said. "These are remarkable and inspiring people." She remembers being very nervous the days of her clients' court hearings. "Since I had the opportunity to hear their stories, I knew they were so deserving of record clearance." Then, when the judges agreed that the record should be cleared, it brought "pure joy." "You feel so happy, you just want to start clapping and cheering," she said. "But you can't. You're in court." She keeps in touch with some of her clients, who credit Lisseth and the Record Clearance Project with giving them new opportunities. But she also has another endeavor. After graduating from SJSU in May, Lisseth is working as Program Coordinator for the Record Clearance Project. After that, she is applying to law schools. Lisseth Castillo-Valencia:
Record Clearance Project Former RCP clients who are speaking to people who are in Elmwood Jail: