Every day, Roger Haynes represents people who are at the lowest points in their lives. “In many cases, their lives have gone sideways because of poor choices, and they’ve spent time in jail. As their defense attorney, I not only help them with legal matters but often have a chance to minister to them as well. In the course of helping them with their current legal trouble, I can paint a picture of what it can be like down the road as a law-abiding citizen living a life that is glorifying to the Lord.”
Many of the people at the Expunction Expo last month know just what it feels like to have their lives turned upside down. Started three years ago by the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, the Expunction Expo is a program that assists citizens with identifying and erasing past criminal history items, as allowed by Texas law. At the Expunction Expo, people seeking to have charges removed from their records were paired with local volunteer attorneys to discuss their case, review records and assist with moving the expunction process forward. Among the volunteer attorneys represented were staff from the Dallas Public Defenders office, members of the Dallas chapter of Christian Legal Society (CLS), and Watermark’s Dallas Justice group. Dallas Justice is a ministry comprised of Christian lawyers and legal professionals, including many from Watermark.
Dallas County District Clerk Felicia Pitre explained the heart behind this initiative. “When someone gets their record cleaned, it removes a significant stumbling block in their life,” she explained. “Having a criminal charge on your record can affect everything from where you work to where you live, to your ability to take out a home or car loan. I, like many other people, feel like the work at the Expo is my ministry. I am a believer who happens to be an elected official. No matter where I am, I want to make a difference, and this effort really does. Sometimes people leave here in tears because they are so thankful for the help from the volunteer attorneys. This truly changes lives and gives God glory.”
For Rob McAngus, an attorney and Watermark Member, serving at an initiative like the Expunction Expo was an opportunity to deploy his skills to serve people in our community in Jesus’ name. “It wasn’t until recently that I started thinking about the intersection of my work and faith,” said Rob. “At the Expunction Expo,” Rob said, “it was great to meet with clients, hear their stories, and help them with records expungement – something most people did not have the resources to take care of on their own. Any time I can use my law degree to benefit someone in need, it’s a good thing.”
Attorneys taking part in Watermark Justice not only serve at events like the Expungement Expo, but also help share Christ and serve people through organizations like African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM), International Justice Mission, Advocates for Community Transformation, and others as well as discuss how they can best live out their faith through their jobs Monday through Friday. “Our goal is to use our law degrees and faith in Christ to address real needs like fighting human trafficking or helping underserved communities to take back their streets from crime and violence,” said Roger. “Attorneys in this ministry have volunteered hundreds of hours to living out their faith in the context of their profession, serving a countless number of people along the way.”
At the Expunction Expo, the volunteer attorneys’ service was not only a practical way to provide relief to those in need, but also tangible evidence of God’s love for people. Aishia Adams was greatly encouraged at the prospect of removing the charges on her record that have impacted her life over the last 18 years. “I was charged with theft by check, but the charges were dismissed when I went to court,” said Aishia. “But that incident has been on my record since then, and it has hurt my credit, where I could get a job, my financial stability, and my everyday life. I look around here today and feel like God is at work in our city, our state, and this community, and His work through the men and women serving here is going to change lives.”
Roger agrees that when God’s people use their gifts, talents, and professions to serve others, whether paid or unpaid, the Lord is glorified. “People who are able to get their records expunged are receiving an erasure of charges of wrong-doing in the past. That is exactly what Christ has done for us on the cross. Because of our faith in His sacrifice, our records are wiped clean eternally, and we are reconciled with God. That grace allows us to live more productive lives, just like the expungement does in the short term for many people here. Who would not want to be part of that?”
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)