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Date News Item
11/26/2019 Bloomington Office seals clients' past for a better future

"After working here and meeting people who have had clean records for over a decade, I realized that people can change. We've all done stupid things in our 20's. That shouldn't automatically impact our employment opportunities for life." -Bruce Zywiec, Prairie State Legal Services volunteer

When Bruce Zywiec reached out to our Bloomington office to volunteer, he was thinking he might help with estates and wills. However, Bloomington Managing Attorney Adrian Barr had another idea for him: Assisting clients with expunging or sealing their past criminal records.

As a retired McLean County Assistant State’s Attorney and Illinois State Police trooper, Zywiec had very little interest in doing expungements based on his background. Thankfully, after some thought and encouragement by Barr, Zywiec agreed to do it. While the state legislature recently eased restrictions on expungements and sealings, Zywiec's perspective was not altered by the changed law, it was changed by working with our clients.

The Bloomington office, in partnership with State Farm’s Law Department, holds monthly clinics to help address the growing need for expungements and sealings and other civil matters. Thanks to help from pro bono attorneys like Bruce Zywiec and members of State Farm’s legal department, the Bloomington office assisted clients with expunging or sealing 150 records in 2018.

“The response we have received from clients demonstrates the need for these services,” Barr says. “These services show our clients that if they made a past mistake and make efforts to stay above the law, there is potential to receive a second chance.”

Audrey* is one of those second chances. Her life hit rock-bottom following a history of drug abuse, criminal offenses, and prison time. She lost custody of her children and was homeless before she received help to break the cycle.

Now drug-free and crime-free for 13 years, Audrey enjoys a job that uses her past experiences to help others from making the same mistakes. Before receiving legal assistance from Prairie State, her prior criminal record threatened her chances to obtain future employment.

Nationally, it is estimated that 87 percent of employers do some level of background check. “To be able to say `no’ on that box, it’s such a freedom,” Audrey says.

Stories like Audrey’s are why Jeff Crabill, an attorney at State Farm, volunteers at Prairie State. He says it is gratifying to see the result of this work.

“They’re getting their lives on track,” Crabill says. “We’re actually helping them do that. I don’t have the chance to do that where I’m practicing.”

Interested in volunteering at Prairie State? Visit https://www.pslegal.org/psls-volunteer-opp.asp.

*Name changed to protect identity.

 


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