Clean Slate Work: The Necessity of Second Chances for Justice-Involved People

Aaron Bryant is a summer intern at SCSJ, focusing on community organizing for our Criminal Justice Reform program. Aaron wrote the following reflections of his first experience facilitating a Clean Slate Clinic with SCSJ.

My First Clean Slate Clinic

A few staffers and I walked into the Holton Career Center early Saturday July 12 to begin to set up for the day. There were around 20 or so soon-to-be clients that were waiting outside of the building before the event officially began. The people who came out early signaled that the services we offer are needed in our community. More importantly, what was evident is that participants are not a passive group; the people are ready to take action to change the way they are viewed by their government, their communities and each other.
The Clean Slate Clinic was a multi-pronged approach aimed at helping justice involved people exercise agency. The registration process for the clinic helps SCSJ determine who is eligible for our free legal services. After going through the clean slate registration process, clients went into the auditorium for a speech on the injustices of the criminal justice system.
Clients were shown two documentaries, the first called The House I Live In, detailing the state sponsored criminality and injustices involved in the War on Drugs. The House We Live In dealt with socially constructed views on race. Information was also handed out to clients both inside and outside the auditorium about work that SCSJ has done with Ban the Box initiatives, empirical evidence of racial profiling by the Durham Police Department and steps the city has taken in hiring people with a criminal record since Durham adopted Ban the Box in 2011. SCSJ also provided people with opportunities to share their experiences of involvement with the criminal justice system.
Participants at the clinic were given information about local organizations that offer free help in critical life areas such as education and job training, medical access and rent assistance. Members of the F.A.D.E. coalition were present and helped distribute information about their organizations work at changing local enforcement of drug related offences. SCSJ also partnered with SpiritHouse and Nicole Campbell of the Durham NAACP to register voters. The justice involved community is one of the hardest constituents to register to vote. This is because of the prevalence of misinformation this community has about their rights to vote. We used this voter registration opportunity to let people know that once they complete their sentence, including parole or probation, they are eligible to vote.
The Clinic’s main goal was to change the ways in which justice involved people participate in advocacy and politics. SpiritHouse helped facilitate a legislative exercise where clients introduced new laws that would help the justice involved earn a true clean slate. In meeting with attorneys and law clerks, clients were given a one on one meeting to let them know both the possibilities and limitations of what our organization can do to help clean their records.

To see people throughout the day register for the clinic, dozens register to vote and many more take part in brainstorming a legislative solution to their problems showed me that those directly affected by injustice are those that have a solution for injustice.

During the clinic we set up a Storytelling Project where people could choose to share their personal story of involvement with the criminal justice system. Here’s what people had to say about how they became justice involved and how it has changed their lives forever.

People Change from SCSJ on Vimeo.
Post by SCSJ Troan Intern Aaron Bryant

clean slate
Aaron Bryant, SCSJ Intern