More than 50 people applied for expungements during Leavenworth’s recent expungement day. One of those people was Charles (not his actual name). Charles, an 81-year-old felon, stood in the same office that convicted him of aggravated assault more than 35 years ago. He stood in front of the county attorney’s receptionist, hunched over from age. He was nervous and carrying a secret he had kept for years.  

“Can you help me?” Charles quietly whispered. “My church told me about your office holding an expungement day.”

In January, we organized a program to give those eligible for an expungement a free chance at one. My job is about trying to protect the community, the victim, but we are also about making the community better. Helping people receive expungements is one way we can do that. We want to continue to motivate those who have already bettered their life and help them to continue to move forward. 

Charles stood in front of the receptionist clutching that expungement day flyer and said he wanted more information. He said he was told that the information was on the county attorney’s website, but he did not know anything about computers. As she did for every individual that is unable to print forms, the receptionist printed the necessary forms and provided them to Charles. He filled them out right there and returned them to her.

Jermaine Wilson, mayor of Leavenworth and one of the key drivers of the expungement day success, had his own record expunged years before.

“Getting my record expunged helped me to be in the position I am in today,” he said.

For many, an expungement of one’s record means the sealing of their convictions. It’s an opportunity for people to get better jobs, housing and even education. For others, like Wilson, it meant a new start.

“When you have a new start, you have hope and when there’s hope there’s a promise for your life,” Wilson said.

For Charles, it meant freedom and a peace of mind. Charles expressed that he knew that it seemed silly, but “I want to die knowing this is not on my record.” 

Many people share Charles’ experience. People of all backgrounds have come in our office with similar stories. They had a past conviction, but lack of funds, embarrassment or not knowing the process stopped them from applying.

Expungement was just a word they heard at their sentencing years ago said by the judge that made their conviction final. This caused them distress, especially when it came time to check the box on the job application that yes, they had been convicted of a crime in the past, no matter how long ago it happened. They knew when they checked that box, or when their background was checked, they were not going to be considered for the job they so desperately wanted, housing they needed or education they never dreamed possible. 

For Charles, his dream came true. He no longer was an 81-year-old felon. The court approved his expungement, and the weight Charles had been carrying with him for years lifted.

Todd Thompson is the Leavenworth County attorney.