MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Imagine the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life: maybe a mistake you made, or something you said. Now, imagine being labeled by society for just that one thing.
This is a reality that many in the Mid-South face daily before they get their records expunged.
FOX13 Investigative Reporter Leah Jordan looked into Just City, an organization that, in part, helps folks clean up their records and get back to contributing to society.
The people who are eligible to get their records expunged are folks with low-level criminal charges—usually first-time offenders—who made a mistake, and now pay a big price: not being able to land a job.
One client of Just City’s Clean Slate Fund, Dalisia Brye, told Leah that free help completely transformed her life.
“This is my son, he’s amazing,” Brye said.
Brye described herself as a loving mother, a hard-working entrepreneur, and a humanitarian. But up until 2018, society described her as something else: a felon.
“Sometimes situations happen where you don’t really have a chance to think about your reactions to things,” Brye said.
Brye caught an aggravated assault charge after she got into a fight. Despite certifications in nursing, Brye said her criminal record made it nearly impossible to get a stable job.
“I was a waitress at Chili's, a waitress at Cracker Barrel, I got back in warehousing… You name it,” she said.
Brye went through a diversion program for two years—basically, probation for first-time offenders.
After thousands of dollars in court costs, plus monthly probation fees, there was one final obstacle.
When Brye needed her record expunged in 2018, it cost $450 that she said she didn’t have.
“$400 means food,” Brye said. “It means expenses to keep the lights on. It means daycare fees. It meant a lot.”
So, Just City’s Clean Slate Fund paid for it in full.
“I think grateful is an understatement,” she said. “Literally within that moment, I got my life back. I got my life back.”
Josh Spickler, the founder of Just City and the Clean Slate Fund, said a clean record is the difference between first and third shift, and knowing whether you’ll get to see your child daily.
“No matter if it was last year or last decade, none of us are the thing we did at our lowest,” Spickler said. “Or the decision that we made that was our worst.”
Spickler said a clean record drives recidivism down and gets folks back to working and paying taxes, something also noted in research by both Stanford and American universities.
Because of this, Spickler said everyone in the community should have a vested interest.
“People who have never been inside of the criminal courthouse and don’t even know where it is have an interest if they live in this community for people moving beyond their involvement in the criminal legal system,” Spickler said.
Brye took her second chance and ran with it.
Today, she’s working at her own PR firm that she launched. She helps others become first-time home buyers at United Housing and she credits it all to the Clean Slate Fund - a free program for anyone eligible in the community.
“It’s hard enough being a pending felon and being in that place, but now since we have an opportunity to be able to get these things taken off our records, go get your freedom,” Brye said. “Trust me, your life will be better that way.”
Brye’s expungement fee was $450, but thanks to new legislation, that fee is now much lower at just $100 in Tennessee.
But Spickler said aside from money, just the difficult navigation of the court system can be a deterrent for many—which is a big part in how the Clean Slate Fund helps.
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