I am a western North Carolina native, born in Rutherford County and raised in east Asheville. I believe in second chances because my life would not be the same without one. That’s why I know it is important for our state lawmakers to save the Second Chance Act, which provides expunction relief to thousands of our local community members each year. 

As someone who has been impacted by the criminal legal system — someone who survived the traumatizing prison experience and then navigated coming home to a world of uncertainty — I know how a criminal record can block a particular workforce credential. I know the struggle to find an apartment because of my 13-year-old record. This happened to me after I was already leading in the community and the church and increasing peace in the community.

I was eventually able to obtain the skills, mentorship, and experience to start a nonprofit called Operation Gateway and a regional behavioral-health stigma-slaying movement called Voices of Affrilachia — two movements that support reentry and healthcare access for people from marginalized communities of Appalachia.

The Lord has brought me from a mighty long way, but I know that His work does not end with me. My life verse is Isaiah 61:1, and I know that “the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me and He has anointed me” to be a voice for the people who have been impacted by the criminal legal system.

Several years ago, I was among the more than 1,000 impacted people and community leaders who visited the state legislature to gain widespread support for the NC Second Chance Act. When the Second Chance Act passed, with full support of the NC Senate and House, it was a big deal. It required the automated expunction of most dismissed and not-guilty charges, which most people do not realize show up on their record.

While petition-based expunctions have helped many North Carolinians, the process can use a lot of already limited resources. This is especially true for people who are representing themselves in court for the expunction. More than 400,000 people benefited from automated expunction during the nine months it operated. Although automation was paused in 2021 to fix implementation challenges, a group of key stakeholders reviewed the challenges and developed solution-based recommendations. Now, a few loud voices are trying to repeal automated expunction. This will hurt many North Carolinians, especially people who can’t afford an expunction attorney.

But there is reason for hope. For more than a decade, fellow western North Carolinian, state Sen. Warren Daniel — a Republican representing Buncombe, Burke, McDowell counties — has led efforts to expand our state’s expunction laws. When Daniel entered the Senate in 2011, the same year that I was released from prison, there were virtually no opportunities for expunction. Between 2011 and 2020, Senator Daniel sponsored every expunction bill that passed the legislature, culminating in the historic passage of the Second Chance Act.

We are fortunate to have Senator Daniel on the conference committee, where he can push the legislature to restart the automated expunction of dismissed and not-guilty charges.

If Jesus cleared the slates of sinners who were all guilty, and if we’re considered innocent until proven guilty in this nation, how can we allow a process that punishes people who are not guilty or have dismissed charges? Automated expunction ensures that everyone with eligible charges receives the expunction they qualify for, regardless of whether they can afford a lawyer or navigate a complex court process.