Former Abilenian Seeking Support for ‘Clean Slate’ Bill

How to Help
Below is a link to an online Faith Leader Sign-On Letter to show support for Clean Slate legislation in Texas. The letter begins, “As people of faith in Texas, we are a people of love, hope, and most of all redemption.” The letter explains that the Clean Slate Initiative “will expand the number of people who are eligible to have their criminal records sealed and make the record sealing process automatic.” 
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSebRkpk_UfnMcdnwF7wTLs0hSRWE5VJ0TsZV0fIgm6NenJx7g/viewform?gxids=7628

Current Texas Law
From: https://www.urbanitus.com/
During the 2015 legislative session, Texas passed the Second Chance bill, SB1902, introduced by Sen. Charles Perry, a Republican who founded Lubbock’s Tea Party. It passed by an overwhelming majority of 138-4, with two not voting and six absent. When it became law on Sept. 1, 2015, it changed Texas law to allow individuals with an eligible misdemeanor conviction to receive what is known as an “OND,” an order of non-disclosure, Texas’s equivalent to Pennsylvania’s sealing of records. Similar to Pennsylvania, if they have another conviction, are arrested for another crime, or have a felony on their record, they will not be eligible. Unlike Pennsylvania, it is not retroactive and therefore does not apply to crimes prior to September 2015. Read more

By LORETTA FULTON

After serving two years of a six-year sentence for drug possession, Lori Mellinger was released from the Lockhart Correctional Facility and found a new home in Abilene, through New Beginnings Big Country, a transitional housing program for women who have been incarcerated.

Through New Beginnings, Mellinger got hooked up with FaithWorks, a job training and life training program founded by Joyce Dalzell. And, from FaithWorks, Mellinger was able to get an internship with the United Way that led to a one-year paid position thanks to the federally funded AmeriCorps VISTA program.

Lori Mellinger

With all that good fortune and good experience–on top of a clean record–Mellinger thought her troubles were behind her. But then she moved to Austin to work for Empowered Women of Purpose, an agency that works with women in prison and after their release to help them become productive members of society. Once Mellinger arrived in Austin, reality hit her in the face. With her criminal record, despite all that she had accomplished since her release, finding a place to live would be difficult.

“I had to know someone,” Mellinger said, “to introduce me to a landlord.”

Mellinger’s experience propelled her to help other women who are walking the same path that she walked. She now is the re-entry services coordinator for Empowered Women of Purpose. Ironically, Mellinger works with women imprisoned at the Lockhart Correctional Facility, the same prison where she served her term. 

One of the issues Mellinger currently is involved with is getting a bill passed in the Texas Legislature called Clean Slate. She is hoping that faith leaders in Texas will sign on to the initiative by signing a letter of support. The letter begins, “As people of faith in Texas, we are a people of love, hope, and most of all redemption.” 

The Clean Slate bill, similar to bills in some other states, would expand on the state’s current orders of nondisclosure. Texas law already provides for the sealing of records of a person’s criminal background under certain circumstances. But, according to a Clean Slate infographic titled “Streamlining Second Chances,” the process is costly and complex. The infographic explains why more is needed.

“Clean Slate is a package of bills that would provide record sealing relief automatically and expand eligibility, making record sealing more accessible to all Texans.” 

The infographic explains that millions of Texans have prior arrest records that create barriers to housing, employment, public assistance, educational opportunities, and more. That is exactly what Mellinger encountered when she tried to find a place to live in Texas. Despite paying her debt to society, Mellinger’s criminal past was preventing her from moving forward.

“That lives with you for the rest of your life,” she said.

Thanks to a good support system, Mellinger landed on her feet and is enjoying the productive work she does with Empowered Women of Purpose. Mellinger isn’t totally unaccustomed to landing on her feet.

She did that when she chose to come to Abilene after release from prison, rather than returning to her native East Texas. She got into Missy Denard’s New Beginnings Big Country transitional housing program, where she had a safe place to live, and guidance on living the life of a good citizen. She got a job working in the kitchen at a restaurant and then found the path to a better career through FaithWorks. That led to the internship with the United Way and the one-year paid position with the agency.

Mellinger is one of the FaithWorks exes who is featured on the FaithWorks website. In the article, Mellinger says she got into alcohol and drugs, followed by losing her marriage and her job.

“I kind of lost myself,” she said.

But, with the help of a strong support group, Mellinger was able to pull herself out of the dark hole she was in. In the FaithWorks interview, Mellinger tells how the program is much more than a career development program.

“It’s walking in my path, walking in God’s will,” she said, “knowing what’s out there for me. It’s knowing it’s never too late to become someone better.” 

Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene

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