Planned expungement clinic to lift burden, open doors

News Photo by Julie Riddle Kathleen Destromp opens the front door of her Alpena apartment for a visitor last week.

ALPENA — Try as she might, Kathleen Destromp couldn’t rent an apartment.

Not long ago, Destromp — homeless after being discharged from a stay at Pointe East in MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena’s behavioral health center — got turned down by housing authorities, even though housing was available.

A criminal conviction from nearly a decade ago, supposedly hidden by courts because of Destromp’s young age at the time, had shown up during a background check, and Destromp was not allowed to rent an apartment.

It took the vigorous efforts of advocates willing to help her secure necessary documents for Destromp to prove she qualified to rent.

“Within a month, I had an apartment,” Destromp said last week.

Now, she’s trying to help other people get out from under a burden that keeps them from securing homes or jobs to make their lives better.

An expungement clinic planned for mid-August in Alpena could help people legally remove their criminal records from public view — a change Destromp hopes will mean fewer people unable to find a place to live.

“I just want people to not go through what I went through,” said Destromp, one of the clinic’s organizers.

Even in a tight housing market, apartments and other rentals are available locally, but would-be residents have to qualify, and a criminal conviction can kick an applicant off a list instantly.

Many employers won’t consider applicants with police records, especially those involving drugs, like hers, Destromp said.

With no work and no place to live, people who want to do better sometimes revert to the life that got them into trouble in the first place.

“You fall back into patterns that worked before to make a fast dollar,” Destromp said. “You can’t make legitimate money because you have the record hanging over your head.”

Suppression of criminal records can clear the way to the jobs and homes that help people along a different path.

Destromp, president of the Bay View Center of Alpena Board of Directors, has spearheaded the organization of an expungement clinic to be held at the center on August 19.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who last month promised her office’s help in making such a clinic possible, has pledged to be present for the Alpena clinic, along with a team of lawyers and other state-level workers experienced in helping people clear their criminal records.

Not everyone can get their records expunged — hidden from prospective employers, landlords, and others who could turn away a potential applicant because of their criminal history.

Recent changes in Michigan’s expungement laws have loosened restrictions and cleared the way for more people to hide their records and to do so sooner, but many who come to the expungement clinic hoping for relief will not qualify, Destromp said.

Still, she said, she hopes they try.

Several Alpena agencies have agreed to participate in the clinic, offering fingerprinting and notary services and onsite counseling for those emotionally impacted by not qualifying for expungement — or by the discovery that a long-carried burden could soon be lifted.

She committed the drug crime for which she was convicted, and she did it knowingly, Destromp said.

But, she paid her fines and her debt to society by serving her required sentence, and she shouldn’t have to bear the weight of the crime anymore, she said.

A criminal record does not equal a bad person, Destromp said.

“It just means that, once upon a time in their lives, they messed up,” she said.

Planners still have to work out some details of the clinic, which they will share as the event nears.

If the community pitches in, and if people show up, the clinic could change lives, Destromp believes.

“There’s almost an endless list of ways that expunging someone’s record can help them,” she said. “They can go back to school. They can get a house. They can get a job. They can just better their lives all the way around.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.


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