For many low-income Californians, finding employment is challenging, and for those with criminal records, can be nearly impossible. People with a criminal record can face lifelong barriers to housing, employment, parental rights, public assistance, and permanent immigration status.
During the pandemic OneJustice has worked to expand access to expungement clinics both in person, and virtually to provide clients with free legal services to restore their criminal records. Expungements have the potential to provide low-income clients with a fresh start, a clean slate, and a fair opportunity to fully engage in their communities.
Today I’m honored to share with you the first-hand story of Tim (pictured above), who received free legal assistance at a OneJustice clinic, in partnership with our legal aid and pro bono partners, to expunge his criminal record.
“My name is Tim Ethier, I live in Ventura, California, I have been a lifetime resident of California, and a lifetime resident of Ventura. And basically I am here today to tell my story, briefly, so that OneJustice, the organization that I am speaking about understands not only the gratitude and the importance of the organization, but also to give a personal testimony about what my struggle was throughout the years of my life.
To give you a brief overview, when I got into a bad place with addiction and alcoholism, like a lot of people a criminal record always accompanies that and sometimes it is a result of that or it manifests itself in different ways, so it is important to realize that my testimony is my personal experience, and everybody has their own story, so whatever I can do to inspire you to move on without getting too drug down with the personal details.
My story started about six years ago and I had gotten to a place with drugs and alcohol that was unmanageable at that point. As things happen and your irresponsibility happens with your addiction you create a path behind you that creates a criminal record, and a lot of us have it. It can be anything from a DUI, which I had, to petty theft and domestics and things like that. All misdemeanors but all horrible results of my irresponsibility and my inability to get to the core of my addiction and my problems.
Once I addressed those issues, I was able to do that with the assistance of the Ventura County Rescue Mission, which helped me in the Life Recovery Program and when I graduated that program I was able to start the process of restoring my criminal record. For a lot of people that is uncharted territory like it was for myself, and so I reached out and I put myself out to different organizations and even private lawyers, and I started with the Public Defender’s office in my county and they referred me to the National Legal Defense Fund, which referred me to OneJustice.
The reason why I want to give my testimony today for OneJustice is because this organization was imperative in the process of assisting me to represent myself throughout my expungement process. I say imperative because you can’t really do it by yourself. The legal community is a very tight knit and very difficult place to navigate if you don’t really know the process of lawyers and public defenders and all that, or how to get this process done.
So once I got to a clearheaded place and I started to practice my sobriety, I wanted to restore my character and my criminal record, and when I got to the place where I was able to do that I had a plethora of resources available. But what I want to emphasize is that it takes individual work, individual time and individual patience for anyone to put these things into action. So by no means are you going to be able to rely solely on an organization, whatever the entity is, to do the work for you. But OneJustice was invaluable in the process from the beginning, not only advocating for my recovery, but advocating for the process of wanting to restore my character.
I keep referring to restoring my character because when you look at somebody, and you do an interview in this day in age, especially via Zoom or you do it in an interview for a job or anything, you can create a beautiful resume and a beautiful story about yourself, but if they look at your background it can be a problem, and a lot of people say oh we just have to clear your background and you’ll be good, I can’t tell you how many times I lost prime jobs because of my background and my criminal background. I was thinking that I’m just going to be stuck in this job, and I’m not going to be able to flourish and get back on my feet and so I got tired of that, I got tired of the refusal of jobs that I knew I deserved and I knew that I could perform at because of a bad criminal record. Criminal records can haunt you for the rest of your life if you don’t do anything about them. For those people who don’t have a criminal record it’s easy, but for those that acquire them due to results of irresponsibility and phases in their life, if they don’t address those things they can haunt them for many years, and I was experiencing that. Being a middle aged guy looking to restore my income and find a career, I found the obstacles were huge for me with this criminal record.
So I went backwards and went back to square one and was able to find OneJustice, which advocated for me, and wrote letters for me and connected me with pro bono lawyers to represent me in court when I wasn’t able to do that myself. So basically my testimony today is just to tell you that if you don’t put work in and you don’t reach out, nothings going to happen and obviously nothing comes from nothing. The action that you need to take requires patience and diligence, and forethought, but you also have to be able to communicate with people and trust the process, because if you don’t trust the process and be patient with it, you can give up on it easily. And I did that for years, I gave up on myself and I gave up on a lot of things. But this was something I really wanted for myself and I felt like the team at OneJustice really embraced that passion for me to come back into the fold and address what was necessary for me to restore my character and restore my criminal record.
We all want instant gratification, we all want things to happen right away, and restoration takes a long time to reconcile, and so I had to learn patience, and it has helped me in my job, in the way that I approach people, its helped me in the way I approach my kids, they see a difference, and it is rewarding to see them flourish and not worry about the past that you had, and so I feel honored and blessed that I had the opportunity to be able to trust an organization that went all the way to the wall for me, they went all the way. And you didn’t have to do that , and that is something that I really feel blessed and honored to be a part of because of course I was really doubting that it was going to get done, and when you go on a website and you look up interior superior court, and you see all these things that are dismissed by expungement, and then you get the letter, I didn’t really believe it online, I had to have the hard copies of the letters, which I have at my disposal now, and I’m probably going to frame them and put them up somewhere, but I felt like it wasn’t really tangible until I had the paper in my hand, and it wasn’t something I could imagine.
For some people they buy their way out of this stuff and they are able to look the other way because they have a job that is fine, but it was a personal thing for me, it was personally embarrassing and personally something I didn’t want to be out there, so when you take that initiative to restore your character it is a different road, you can restore a lot of things, but restoring your character takes a lot of time with people, believe me not everyone bought into it and I hurt a lot of people along the way. That reconciliation with them was a motivator, especially with my kids because they look at me totally differently now and that’s representative of putting things into action and not just talking about it, and that’s what people need to realize. I can tell you all day how to do things, what to do, and inspire and motivate you, but you have to put the work in, and if you don’t put the work in, then you won’t get the results you want, so I just feel blessed that you gave me the chance to do that, so thank you.
On February 24, 2021 all six of my charges were dropped. And they were dropped free of charge because I was able to get a waiver. I owed over $10,000 to the courts, and they waived all of that. So there is hope and a path that you can take and doesn’t apply to everyone, but it applied to me. And I was able to take the time and energy to trust people to write letters on my behalf, and I finally got a judge to sign off on all my stuff and I can’t tell you the sense of accomplishment that you have when you are able to clear that. I work for UPS now, and I just got another promotion, so this is a process that happened because of the team and the energy that comes from trusting an organization like OneJustice, and so I am eternally grateful for their time and energy and resources that they provided for me, so I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being able to have a chance to tell this story, so thank you.”