“I’m more than my worst day” – Expungement testimony
On a hot summer’s day in 2012, I made the worst mistake of my life. After getting off work on a Saturday, I took my two children to Wendy’s for lunch. They wanted to go to a friend’s pool party afterward so I drove to Walmart to buy them float vests and goggles. My daughter was nine, and my son was 20 months old. When we got to Walmart, I got ready to take the kids out and found my son fast asleep in his car seat. Wanting to let him rest and knowing I’d be gone no more than ten minutes, I asked my daughter to keep an eye on him. I left the car with the air-conditioner running and promised her that I’d be right back.
The next several hours passed in a haze of confusion, anguish, and guilt. My daughter had turned the car engine off by accident. Bystanders saw two children in a car with the windows rolled up and called the police. My life as I knew it had changed forever.
Looking back, I know now that I should have taken the children with me. I even knew it then – but that’s the thing about split second decisions made under exhaustion, they come at you so fast. All I can say is that I was overwhelmed at work and home. I did not have a support system. I was tired all the time and couldn’t remember the last time I had slept through the night. My job became more impossible each day, with an ever-increasing workload. I couldn’t quit because my family needed the money.
My life as I knew it had changed forever.
Despite my arrest and final misdemeanor convictions (one for each child), I am grateful for so many things. First, the people who called the police that day were my blessings. They protected my children. Second, my children were not taken from me nor was I removed from them. Third, I wasn’t put in jail. Fourth, my marriage grew stronger. Fifth, I became a successful consultant and left that horrible job.
But as hard as I’ve tried, my life is still tied to that summer day. The aftershocks from that summer day continue to reverberate and limit the opportunities I have to support my family. After working as a consultant, I found full employment at the same place. When my background check showed the convictions, I was fortunate to have the chance to explain them to an understanding supervisor although doing so meant both flashbacks and PTSD. A clause was put into my hiring letter indicating my job would terminate when the project ended which means I will lose my job in a few months. I am the only person out of a 50+ department that has ever had such a clause put into their hiring letter.
I’ve tried to find new work. The hiring company offered me the position and after the background check, within five minutes, the company called me and rescinded the offer. I also had to explain my situation upon entering school when a background check was conducted there as well. More flashbacks. More pain. Now I will have to look for a new job with a criminal record nine years after the convictions. The stain of my criminal charges lingers even though I’ve completed my sentence, undergone counseling and worked hard to create a stable future for myself and my children.
They say to people like me: you will always be your worst decision, and we won’t let you build a life because of it.
My story is not unique; it is the experience of many hard-working parents across our Commonwealth, especially during the pandemic, with resources stretched thin in a time of grief, constant anxiety, and mental exhaustion. We made unwise, difficult choices that we wish we hadn’t made – and we have assumed responsibility for them, understood and accepted their consequences, and tried to learn, heal, and rebuild our lives.
But people with criminal convictions continue to be sentenced to a second-class life for the remainder of their life. Our records pose a barrier to finding a well-paying job, one that is desperately needed to be able to make better choices. Policies that discriminate against people with records continue to enforce racial and social hierarchies in our society. The irony of these laws is that they can keep people in the kinds of overwhelming circumstances in which they made bad choices in the first place. They say to people like me: you will always be your worst decision, and we won’t let you build a life because of it.
This needs to change so that all Virginians can access safe, affordable housing, decent jobs and opportunities for education, and, as a Virginian, I am proud that our state has moved in this direction.
The Virginia General Assembly heard the voices of the thousands of Virginians like me and passed expungement legislation that for the first time created record sealing for convictions.
In 2021, the Virginia General Assembly heard the voices of the thousands of Virginians like me and passed expungement legislation that for the first time created record sealing for convictions. This was a huge step forward for many Virginians towards safety and stability for themselves and their families. Under the 2021 law, several misdemeanor convictions and some felony convictions can be sealed after a 7-year period in the absence of new charges. This legislation, however, will only take effect in 2025.
This year we had legislation that sought to expand eligibility for record sealing for more charges. Despite strong community support, neither bill moved forward in the House of Delegates.
I am writing today to share my story and share the urgent need for this legislation to be passed next year. That hot summer day and its possibilities will always haunt me. I am asking you not to let it define me.
The author is a Chesapeake resident and a member of The Expungement Council. The Expungement Council is group of people, most of whom have been directly impacted by the violence of Virginia’s criminal legal system, who advocate for ways to build better lives for the more than 1 million Virginians living with a criminal record.
Click here to contact your legislators to encourage them to learn more about record-sealing and meet with directly impacted community members. If you have been impacted by the criminal legal system, we invite you to get involved in the Expungement Council’s work by emailing email@example.com.