“Helping people have legal records expunged has been a great opportunity to discuss the freedom from false accusations and freedom found in Christ.” – Ryan Wall
Danton’s life has been on hold for 15 years. Living under the burden of a false accusation and a criminal record prevented everything from career advancement to salary increases. Justice, said Danton, “has been a long time coming.” But a few weeks ago, things began to change.
Since taking office, Dallas County District Attorney and Christ-follower, Faith Johnson, has focused on an important goal: Expunging the records of hundreds of people in our community who have been falsely accused, charged, or indicted. While the charges have been dropped, the stigma of those criminal records remains, affecting everything from the neighborhood someone lives in, to the education they pursue, to the number on their pay stub.
Having a criminal record expunged is tricky, and it is difficult to find attorneys willing to devote the time to file the petition, free-of-charge, for a client. The other challenge is that many people don’t know that expunging their record is possible. Johnson recently reached out to Watermark leaders to share her heart for the underserved in our city. “I was asked what Watermark could do for Dallas, which was the first time a church had ever asked me that,” Johnson said. She shared the great need for helping people get their records expunged, and a team of attorneys and legal professionals were mobilized to serve.
Through one of Watermark’s affinity groups, more than two dozen lawyers came together a few weeks ago to help clear records and give people a fresh start. More than 40 people also came to Watermark hoping that their records would be erased. After a meal and a time of prayer and encouragement, the lawyers got to work.
“As an attorney daily practicing criminal defense law I see firsthand the long-term effect that a criminal conviction or even an accusation can have on an individual’s future,” said Roger Haynes. “The inability to provide financially is a difficult emotional and psychological hurdle. We hope by erasing a criminal record that they are able to experience freedom from that burden. I spoke to dozens of the applicants before, during, and after the event, and the joy and appreciation for the work of all the volunteer attorneys was amazing.”
“As believers, we recognize that through the overflow of the grace extended to us and the gift of a law degree that we have been given, we are able to assist people in unique ways, and we are able to live out the command in Micah 6:8 in a tangible way,” said Roger. “If the law allows for a charge to be erased from someone’s background then justice is having it removed. Not being able to afford the attorney’s fees shouldn’t hinder that outcome.”
One of the people seeking the expungement of their record was Shakierah. She had dreams of becoming a nurse, but her criminal record prevented her from enrolling in nursing school. A single mom who has struggled with homelessness in the past, she had been waiting for five years to find justice. Because her record will soon be expunged, she can now share parental rights with her children’s father and train to become a registered nurse. Appreciative and thankful for the legal help, Shakira said, “I have a new hope for my future.”
“This has been a great opportunity to have face-to-face discussions about both the freedom from legal records and the freedom found in Christ,” said Ryan Wall. “Many of the people we served have never set foot in a church, so this has been a powerful moment to combine practical service with the hope of the gospel. Later this summer, many clients will return to Watermark for a celebration of their records being erased. What a clear picture of what Christ does for all who believe!”