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Hundreds get ‘second chance’ at 15th expungement clinic in Shelby County

Keisha Langford is a struggling, single mother of three who made some bad decisions when she was younger.

“About 10 years ago, I was working in a bank,” said Langford. “Somebody came to me and asked me to help them hit a lick, you know, rob the bank. 

“I set it up on the inside, and I told the teller next to me that I would cut her in if everything went OK. But it didn’t go OK, and she turned me in.”

For Langford and hundreds more who showed up last Saturday (March 5) at Shelby County Criminal Court’s 15th Expungement Clinic, the event was a ray of hope in lives clouded with dismal prospects for employment and other quality of life opportunities.

“Offenders made a bad decision,” said Heidi Kuhn, criminal court clerk. “And we’ve all made bad decisions. But not all of us got caught. They realize what they did was wrong, and they just want a new beginning.”

For Langford, employment prospects have been with fast food establishments. Five years after incarceration, not much has changed. She wants more for her children.

“I can’t get help from my family because they can’t help financially,” said Langford. “I want to go back to school and one day open my own business. I want to be a good example because I don’t want my children going down the same road.” 

Kuhn has heard similar stories. Ex-offenders want to be better providers for their families but are hampered by a criminal record.

To date, more than 4,100 expungements have been successfully processed since 2018 in expungement clinics coordinated by the office of Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk Heidi Kuhn. (Courtesy photo)

“Your record shouldn’t be a life sentence,” said Kuhn. “And this is an opportunity for people to get expunged, to have their record cleared, and have better opportunities in getting a job, getting a home loan, really becoming productive citizens.

“Just because someone has a past should not mean they don’t have a future.”

While waiting for his number to be called, Shaun Dryer 37, was hoping for a “second chance.”

“Man, I already lost so much time,” said Dryer. “I am not a bad person. I just got caught up. I did wrong, and I paid for what I did. 

“Now, I want better for my family. I want to give my children a good home, move them to a good neighborhood. I want to do better for my mother. I want her to be proud of me. You feel me?”

Dryer has been employed through temporary services in manual labor assignments with no benefits for himself or his family. He wants to break the cycle of poverty.

Kuhn said both men and women express the desire to provide a better life and future for their children.

Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk Heidi Kuhn: “Just because someone has a past should not mean they don’t have a future.” (Courtesy photo)

“People want to be made whole,” said Kuhn. “Coming to this clinic is the first step to a new life.”

Kuhn has permanently waived the $100 fee required for expungement. She is the state’s only criminal court clerk to do so. 

All court fines, fees and restitution must be paid before expungement is considered.

Expungement is a 30-day process if applicants meet certain requirements. 

Non-violent, victimless crimes, or drug offenses, and other specified offenses are eligible. Others are instructed on the next steps to expunging their record. 

The Rev. Keith Norman. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

The event’s host pastor, the Rev. Keith Norman, said First Baptist Church – Broad Street and other churches should be involved in social justice and redemptive work

“The Christian church is called to redemptive work,” said Norman. “Expungement is social justice in action. Men and women are being redeemed, just as Jesus redeemed us.”

To date, more than 4,100 expungements have been successfully processed since 2018 in Kuhn’s clinics.

(For more information, call 901-222-3200.)

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