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This is about the problems I’ve had due to past troubles with the law and a little bit about how and why it happened. But first, a little background info..My name is Beth and I’m 29 years old and I have been living in Queens, NY for the past 2 1/2 years. I lived in NJ all my life, but moved to get away from negative influences and people..And to get off drugs. Since then I have stayed out of trouble and have been clean off opiates since July 13, 2011, almost 2 years now. So now I am at the point of trying to better myself by finishing my schooling and getting a job, but because of my criminal past, I have been unable to find work so far.
I was volunteering at the Goodwill in Nov 2012 and was going to be hired as an employee until I filled out the application honestly and they saw my convictions. It seemed like the manager was no longer comfortable with me around. Her whole demeanor changed towards me when she found out I had a criminal past. Granted, I could understand why someone would be nervous about hiring someone in retail with a shoplifting charge on their record, but it was my first offense ever and it was about 5 years ago and I had explained that to her. So feeling unwanted there, I left.
My criminal record is far from immaculate, but it’s nothing compared to other people I know who have gotten caught up in drugs. All of my convictions have been misdemeanors. The last conviction I had was on 4/2012 for 2 counts paraphernalia, which was from 2 years ago and originally charged 6/2010 and 12/2010. If it wasn’t for Fugitive Safe Surrender I would have done some jail time for the 4 cases they dismissed. So I believe I have 3-4 convictions on my record. Shoplifting dp 9/08, receiving stolen property 9/08, and 2 count paraphernalia 4/12. I also was given Probation on the shoplifting and had 2 Violation of Probation, one I plead guilty to, and one was dismissed at FSS along with all fines on 4/12.
I am currently still dealing with the Shoplifting case from Middlesex, NJ to this day. This was my first offense ever and they are still trying to prosecute me for the 2nd VOP that was dismissed at Fugitive Safe Surrender last year. The charge was originally a Superior Court case as Shoplifting Indictable offense 3rd degree felony, but reduced to Disorderly Persons offense which is not indictable. They said my disposition paper signed and stamped by the other judge was a fake and later changed to saying only the original judge can dismiss fines and vacate probation if it is an indictable and superior case. But the judge was a superior court judge at FSS acting for a superior courts of NJ. And disorderly persons is not an indictable offense. There are many other things very wrong with this case that I will not go into, but to say that this case has left me spending money I do not have is an understatement. Mind you they had me going to court 1x a month for the past year over $160 in fines. My appointed lawyer gave the judge the recording from FSS as proof, so he dismissed the case..But I am receiving papers from probation again and soon wil receive a court date for non-compliance and then have to waste more money proving it was dismissed again. AND that is the gist of my legal issues and criminal history. I also have about 6 charges that were dismissed, but I don’t think they would be on my record for a normal job or school. So the last time I have gotten arrested was Dec 2010, yet it seems like I’m unable to find a job.
I have probably applied to about 100 plus jobs in the past year and haven’t gotten one single call back. I understand we are in a recession and all, but to not have any calls seems like its more than that. I even gave up trying for retail or supermarket jobs and applied for jobs in fast food, like Mcdonalds and Wendy’s and did not receive any response there either. It seems like all the jobs with online apps don’t even bother responding if you answer yes to criminal history questions. I’ve sort of lost hope in finding a job, but that’s the only way I’m gonna ever be able to get into school again.
I am also in a load of debt. Credit cards, banks, bills, and student loans. I took out the student loan when I was 19 for a NY culinary school that I only spent a semester in. I switched to Community College in NJ, where I could get full financial aid and the loan went in to in-school deferment and I didn’t have to pay or anything. But when I got hooked on drugs I didn’t care about bills, so it went into default. I found this out while trying to go back to school in 2011. I was told that they changed the way they do financial aid and that if you have a student loan in default you are not eligible for aid. My loan is for about $1,500 in total. I read that if it was still in the loan givers hands I could make payments for 6-9mos and get reinstated to receive aid again, but it had been forwarded to a collection agency. I also read that something could be worked out though, but I couldn’t even afford to make the payments without a job. I have about 1 year or more of schooling left to get my degree in Radiology. I chose that field because I like helping people and fixing problems. Unfortunately, it seems like without a job I won’t be able to go back.
I’m currently living with a friend and on welfare which pays my rent as long as I am enrolled in a outpatient program or a work program. I just lost my rent and am waiting for a court hearing, but if they do not reinstate me I will be forced to decide whether to leave and stay in a shelter or move back to NJ. It seems like the job opportunities are more here. There is more of a need for a car in NJ as well and my license is currently suspended due to fines I’m unable to pay without a job. In NY it is quicker to take public transit and it takes you anywhere you need to go.
This is my life, filled with trials and tribulations that I have no control over. I feel like maybe this is a test, but still they are beating me down and I slowly feel more and more like giving up. It doesn’t make sense that someone can be held accountable for the rest of their life for some mistakes they made years ago when they were a different person and/or under the influence. People wouldn’t judge someone with cancer or diabetes for their actions while sick, but an addict is considered a lifestyle choice. What a lot of people don’t realize is that it is a disease, just like cancer and diabetes, and it changes your brain chemistry after a certain point and you are not yourself anymore. That’s where the stealing and lying and doing awful things comes in.
┬áIf they made addiction a public health issue instead of criminal like in some other countries, myself and others wouldn’t have a record and tax dollars wouldn’t be wasted on prisons that are currently overcrowded by non-violent drug offenders. But I doubt they will ever change the laws as long as they are making money off of drug users and the taxpayers.
I wish there were something I could do to get my record expunged or sealed from jobs to see. I think maybe it would be better to lie on applications, even if I only get the job for 2 weeks I will at least make some money before they find out. I honestly don’t know what else to do. It seems I have run out of choices. I have more than done the time for the crimes I committed and all of them were due to my addiction and imposed fear while in an abusive relationship. I regret pleading out to a lot of these crimes knowing what I know now and the facts of the case being weak. I was told I could get the receiving stolen prop dismissed, but I couldn’t afford to travel back..And I was part of a needle exchange program that allowed me to carry legally but I had lost my card..And that would of left me with 1 charge and would of been a lot easier to get expunged, but maybe not because I’m still dealing with that case 6 years after I committed the crime. Maybe I should of filed a counter suit for that case against the store and employees for the aggressive action they used on me and the lies written.I wish I was told by my lawyer about the lack of video surveillance before I plead out to the charge. I wish there was a way I could take back my guilty plea and be tried again, but I’m afraid I’ve waited too long now. I can wish all I want, but I’m afraid it’s never going to change.
I would say the best thing for anyone to do is not to get in trouble and to never just try or even experiment with drugs because it only takes one time to get hooked. I used to laugh at that statement, but I understand it now. It’s the first time I used that I fell in love with the drug, when I found the feeling of complete serenity that I had never felt before and that’s the moment I knew I had to have more till I was physically addicted and willing to do almost anything to get more. Combine that with a toxic and abusive relationship and it’s a recipe for disaster. Luckily, the one thing went to jail and I moved away despite the angry letters. I believe if I had stayed I would’nt be alive right now.
Now that it has been some time that I have been clean I know I could move back and be fine. It’s not the location that matters so much anymore as the problems that arise day to day. If anything were to break me it would be the struggle of not being able to succeed. I would say I am an optimist, but lately I have had a dark cloud following me around for the past month or two which is something abnormal for me. I usually have passing depression at most, but this cycle of success and let downs has got me ready to give up. I see no silver lining or rainbow at the end of this tunnel. I hope someone will take a chance and hire me regardless of my criminal past. I am not the person I was when I was on drugs and even then I was morally distraught over doing wrong. They say on job applications that a conviction doesn’t necessarily bar you from employment when they already have a human resources person who automatically says no the second they say conviction for anything more than auto or DUI. I wonder if there is some kind of legal action that can be taken for biased hiring tactics, but it’s not right. All this does is make criminals repeat offenders since they are unable to find work and then become desperate to make money. We need to do something to change the way the system works..But until we get enough people to stand up and make a change, anyone who has been in trouble with the law more than once and made mistakes will have to face them the rest of their lives, regardless of whether they have learned from them or not, and likely be unproductive members of society because of it. It’s a miracle if someone with even a mild criminal record is able to become successful and make something of themselves. I hope I can one day be one of those miracles.
User story by beth in New Jersey

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One Response Leave a comment

  1. Luzia says:

    Expungment refers to court rrdoecs. A record of an arrest is a record made be and maintained by the police, not the courts. If the record is accurate if you were actually arrested, then in most states there is nothing you can do to suppress that accurate record of actions taken by police. In those few states that allow a court to order police to seal their rrdoecs, their is no universal time frame and each state and country has different rules.


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