Tag: Living Word Christian Center

As Convictions Rise, So Does Demand for Starting Anew


Attendees at last Saturday’s Expungement Summit, hosted by Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, listed to a panel of elected officials and experts about the expungement and sealing process at the Living Word Christian Center in Forest Park. Photos by William Camargo for Wednesday Journal, Inc. 

Jason MeekinsFriday, June 12, 2015 || Originally Published: Austin Weekly News || 5/11/15 || By Michael Romain

On the Fourth of July last year, Jason Meekins, 18, (pictured) was caught trying to steal $70 worth of alcohol from a Jewel in the city’s Old Town neighborhood. He was later convicted of retail theft. The Englewood resident, who is currently studying audio technology at SAE Institute Chicago, said his arrest has affected his employability.

“I did get turned down from a couple of jobs,” he said. “They asked if I had a record and I didn’t say nothing. I didn’t think it was a big thing, because it wasn’t a felony. But they were like, ‘Nah, any charge is a thing.’ I feel like it can potentially prevent me from getting a job in the future.”

That’s why Meekins was among those who converged on the massive campus of Living Word Christian Center, a megachurch in west suburban Forest Park, last Sat., June 6, for Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown’s annual Expungement Summit.

The day-long event, which Brown has been hosting for 11 years, typically draws anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 people from across the state looking to have their criminal records sealed or expunged at a fraction of the cost and complication of attempting the process themselves.

“It can be pretty difficult for the lay person to expunge or seal without an attorney,” said Jalyne Strong-Shaw, Brown’s chief public information officer. “You have to get your record, your rap sheet and know what’s expungable. Some cases are expungable and some aren’t. That’s something an attorney deciphers — a layperson usually can’t.”

Strong-Shaw said there’s also the matter of costs, which can include lawyer and application filing fees — costs that attendees of the annual Summits may be able to avoid altogether.

“Here, we have volunteer attorneys to look at your cases and they’ll explain to you what your options are, whether or not you qualify for expungement or sealing; assist you with filing the application on-site; and if you’re indigent or impoverished, you can go before a judge on-site to have your fees waived. If you need to pay filing fees, we have clerk’s office cashiers on-site. The last part is for all these petitions to go before judges who make the final decision.”

That last part, however, isn’t determined on-site, Strong-Shaw said. But once the application is sent off to a judge, the legwork is over and the only thing for an applicant to do is wait on a judge’s decision. How long a wait depends on a variety of factors, Strong-Shaw noted, adding that “at the most, the wait could be maybe six months.”

If all of those floating variables makes the expungement process a headache for individuals; it can provoke migraines for the Summit’s army of planners and volunteers, who may together see thousands of individual cases in the course of a day.

“We’ve had anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 people at any one time and each of those people may have two or more cases,” Brown said. “So you’re talking about what could be 10,000 cases. They have to each get expunged or sealed one at a time.”

But for all of the event’s complexity, Brown said her department may only spend around $10,000 or less. She said corporations like Walgreens donate food and supplies, while attorneys and judges volunteer their time. Strong-Shaw said the clerk’s office sends out an announcement each year for volunteer lawyers and gets a robust response. Cabrini Green Legal Aid, a criminal and legal services organization, trains lawyers to work the event, which runs for at least nine hours.

But the crowds, the heat and the wait time is often a minor tradeoff for those looking for the opportunity to start their lives anew. When a criminal record is expunged, it’s essentially erased from the state’s memory — a person’s arrest record for the expunged case is no longer kept on the files of the arresting authority or of the state police and the arrestee’s name is removed from Circuit Court Clerk’s official index (or even destroyed). That way, prospective employers or law enforcement authorities can’t see it.

A sealed record is typically kept on the government’s file, but no one can see or access it except in special circumstances. For instance, the state can decide to unseal a record if it’s important to the public interest.

It’s difficult to know the precise number of people in the city who have criminal backgrounds. One of the most comprehensive attempts to track this population was done by the Chicago Justice Project, which conducted a five-year analysis of conviction data in Cook County. The organization has noted that it accessed the data after threatening to sue the Circuit Court Clerk’s office. Moreover, the data is still incomplete due to a variety of factors.

“While we would have liked to have seen all convictions from 2005-2009, we aren’t sure if we received them all because we have only limited information on the total number of cases in the court system with which to compare the data,” the Chicago Justice Project states on the website, “Convicted in Cook,” on which it presents its data.

During that five-year time period, there were neatly 13,000 convictions in Austin, or 131 convictions per 1,000 residents. The organization’s data shows that most convictions in Cook County between 2005 and 2009 were related to drug possession and retail theft — 20 percent and seven percent, respectively.

Total No. of Convictions and No. per 1,000 residents (2005-09)

Bellwood || Total = 832 || 44 per 1,000

Broadview || Total = 191 || 24 per 1,000

Hillside || Total = 129 || 16 per 1,000

Forest Park || Total = 250 || 18 per 1,000

Maywood || Total =  1845 || 76 per 1,000

Melrose Park || Total = 467 || 19 per 1,000

Westchester || Total = 130 || 8 per 1,000

Brown said the demand for expungement and sealing services has increased as low level felony and misdemeanor convictions, most of them given to minority young people ages 18 to 29, have piled up. In a way, this population might be considered the domestic equivalent of collateral damage, the inconvenient fallout from the country’s various wars — on drugs, on crime and on terrorism.

“You can go back to 1960s and 1970s, before Reagan put in those drug laws causing people to get arrested for small amounts of marijuana,” said Brown.

“There’s been a significant increase in the number of people arrested and that means a significant increase in the number of people who need expungement,” she said, adding that, in the wake of 9/11 and the implementation of the Patriot Act, employers have been more vigilant about screening applicants and employees.

“I was talking to a 68-year-old great-grandmother who had one case when she was 17,” Brown said. “This is a 51-year-old case. She has 12 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and she’s here to get the case expunged, because all of a sudden, it showed up on her record. We have a teacher here who has been doing her fingerprints for 20 years and all of a sudden, a case showed up on her record.”

“I work in social services and even employers who offer menial jobs are starting to look at backgrounds,” said Armosha Sturdivant, the president of the Peoria Black Chamber of Commerce.

Sturdivant, along with Katie M. Blackman, clerk of the Circuit Court of Champaign County, were at Saturday’s Summit because they’re interested in putting one of these on in their areas of the state. Brown said the Cook County event is the only of its kind in Illinois.

“We have a Summit of Hope, but it doesn’t expunge your records and doesn’t even address records, it just tries to place you in a career or something.”

Blakeman, who said she was ‘speechless’ at the range of on-site services offered at Brown’s event, noted that she’s looking to implement something similar in Champaign County, albeit on a smaller scale.

Linda Barker, the founder of Sistas of the Hood, an Austin-based support services organization for convicted felons, said that events like Brown’s Summit offers a much-needed antidote to the prevalence of convictions throughout the state.

“This event gives people who’ve been convicted an opportunity to clear themselves, make the second step toward change, leave the old baggage behind and start life anew. That’s what it’s about. It’s kind of difficulty to get employed when you’ve got a mark on you.”  VFP

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Living Word Christian Center to Host Dorothy Brown’s Second Annual Expungement Summit

Clerk-Brown-welcomes-attendees-to-exp.-summitTuesday, June 2, 2015 || Originally Published: Forest Park Review || By John Rice

Event drew 2K ex-offenders last year

The 2015 Criminal & Traffic Expungement & Sealing Summit will be held at the Living Word Christian Center (LWCC) this Saturday, June 6, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The event is sponsored by the Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court, Dorothy Brown.  Last year’s event was a rousing success, serving over 2,000 participants. The summit is designed to clean up the records of ex-offenders so they will be eligible for employment.  It’s a tangible way to address the county’s high recidivism rate, which sees 65% of offenders returning to prison.

LWCC is a logical host for the event. Pastor Bill Winston has been a leading force in ministering to prisoners and ex-offenders here in Illinois and in Alabama. His staff offers assistance before, during and after the summit, including the printing and distribution of handouts.

The church is accessible by public transportation and has ample parking. It has large assembly areas and meeting rooms.  More important than its central location and large facility, the summit is connected with other LWCC ministries, such as Joseph Business College, W.E.C.A.R.E Reentry Services and Prison Ministry.

“Last year, the line was all the way around the mall by 6 a.m.,” recalled Pastor Derick Bright, Senior Leader of the Prison Ministry, “We stayed until 10 p.m. to make sure nobody left here angry. We had pro bono lawyers and judges. We took over the whole mall.”

Bright said ex-offenders must be at least one year removed from incarceration, to be eligible for the summit. “The participants are sorted by their criminal offense,” he noted, “and view a very informative power-point about what offenses can be expunged.”

He believes many officials in the criminal justice system, including Sheriff Tom Dart, support the summit, so that ex-offenders can break the vicious cycle that leads to being locked-up again. Clerk Brown said, “I had the idea for hosting an expungement summit, when I first took office. I was invited to summits to serve on panels. They had a few attorneys there, but they had people standing outside freezing to death — 90% of them would find out their conviction wasn’t expungable.”

Brown said the basic rule of thumb is that felonies are not expungable, only misdemeanors, though there are a few exceptions. However, she is running a “full-service” summit in Forest Park. “The Illinois Prison Review Board will be there to tell people they can apply for executive clemency from the governor.” Brown wanted to hold a summit where people were treated like human beings and given the information they needed.

“We’re a cog in the wheel; we should be leading the summit. We hold the key to expungement.” Brown and her staff held their first summit in 2005 at Austin High School. Since then, her office has held summits on the north and south sides and at locations throughout the county. Last year, she decided it was time to hold a summit for the western suburbs. LWCC already had a prison ministry in place and asked to serve as host.

“Because of the size of their facility and how their phenomenal staff accommodated us and cooperated with us, it was a successful event,” Brown said. “This year, Bill Winston has put out commercials promoting the event and the church is distributing fliers.” Thanks to LWCC’s spaciousness, “Everyone gets a seat and they’re treated like human beings. I won’t even look at a facility unless it has a 2,000-seat auditorium. I don’t want people standing in the cold just to hear their conviction wasn’t expungable.”

Brown believes the current criminal justice system can be unfair to ex-offenders.

“They’re penalized for doing time,” she said. “They may have turned their lives around. They want to take care of their families.” Some of these ex-offenders are still paying the price for a nonviolent crime. “The summit is a means of reducing recidivism because it gives people a chance to be legally employed.” It can also cut down on the street crime ex-offenders turn to when they can’t find work.

When Brown attends a summit, as she will this Saturday, “I was so touched by the stories I heard. A woman had to choose to pay for an expungement or buy diapers for her baby. It’s touching to see the need.”

Besides hosting the summit, “We help them get their GEDs, write their resumes and help them prepare for interviews,” Pastor Bright continued, “We get them clothes for the interview and right now, we’re seeking donations from Men’s Wearhouse. We give them bus passes and food cards because many are supporting families. Of our current 30 clients, fifteen have found full-time jobs.”

Aside from the practical help, there is a spiritual aspect to LWCC’s outreach. “We give new believers foundation classes for 11 weeks. We want them to leave the old man and become the new man. But first they have to confess to who they are now.” Participants are invited but not compelled to attend LWCC and perhaps become baptized.

Pastor James Glaspie works under Bright as Prison Ministry Director. He oversees LWCC’s intake office for ex-offenders at 6266 W. North Avenue. He also ministers to inmates at Illinois prisons, juvenile centers and Cook County Jail and leads inmates in foundation classes. “Guards have seen changes in the men from the first time they watch the DVD,” he said.

Glaspie and his team also help them adjust to society after they are released. “We are setting the captives free,” he said. “We’re the church. If we don’t do this, we’re not obeying the Great Commission. We have to feed them spiritually and physically. Pastor Winston told us to go into the prisons. Many of them have been rejected by their own families. They don’t have anyone to talk to, so we have a Pen Pal program and volunteers write to them.”

Glaspie knows what it’s like to get out. “Thirty years ago, I was in prison in California. One day, I had a massive growing moment. I haven’t looked back but I’m here to give back. I know who they are. I’ve been homeless and on drugs. They feel condemned and ashamed. They feel unworthy. They need to forgive themselves first.”

His ministry is geared toward healing clients from the inside out. “Words cannot describe what I see here,” the Forest Park resident said, After “equipping” these men through GED and literacy programs, attending to their physical needs, they’ve been partnering with Workforce, 1800 South Harlem, to find them jobs.

Dr. Eddie Kornegay is another LWCC pastor who lives in the village. “I have fallen in love with Forest Park. It’s a great community.” Kornegay is the dean of Continuing Education and Professional Development at LWCC’s Joseph Business School (JBS). He will be manning an information booth for JBS at the summit because education is the key to ex-offenders becoming productive members of society.

Speaking of Saturday’s summit, Dr. “K” noted that a very high percentage of Cook County residents have some sort of criminal conviction. He sees the event at LWCC as another important component of their comprehensive program to help inmates and ex-offenders who want to rebuild their lives. VFP



TOWNSHIP NEWS: 11 Year-Old Shooting Victim Shamiya Adams Mourned In Forest Park

Screenshot 2014-07-29 at 7.27.45 PM(Mourners gather inside Living Word Christian Center in Forest Park to remember 11 year-old Shamiya Adams. Photos by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press. Cover photo by John J. Kim for the Chicago Tribune).

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 || Michael Romain || Also Published in the Forest Park Review and the Austin Weekly News

Screenshot 2014-07-29 at 7.29.12 PM

FOREST PARK — An estimated 1,000 mourners gathered at Living Word Christian Center in Forest Park July 26 to pay respects to Shamiya Adams, the eleven year-old whose life ended after she was struck in the head by a stray bullet in Chicago the week before. Adams had been at her friend’s house in East Garfield Park for a sleepover July 19 when she was killed.

Bright green was her favorite color, so her family dispensed with tradition and made sure that the ceremonies were bathed in it–from her casket to the pallbearers’ t-shirts to her mother’s jeans to the balloons that were released at her gravesite. From the church, her body was carried to Forest Home Cemetery on a white horse-drawn carriage. And as her tragically small coffin made its final descent, the green balloons, along with a group of pure white doves, were put to flight. The regalia was fitting for the young girl her grandmother nicknamed “Queen” and who was described as a model student and sibling by those who knew her best.

“It’s so meaningful that we have boys and girls who understand the ethic of service,” Gov. Pat Quinn said. Adams was an active volunteer at Melody Elementary, where she went to school. A statement on behalf of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who wasn’t in attendance, praised her legacy as one symbolizing “strength, hard work and humility.” Alderman Jason Ervin (28th) said that “there will be a void this upcoming school year.”

Adams was a voluntary babysitter at her school, where she helped tend to the kindergartners. She had most recently been involved with the Penny Drive, a project designed to raise funds to purchase new books for the school’s library. She was also an active member of First Baptist Congregation’s youth ministry. Her youth pastor, Rev. Danny Jones, said that Adams’s church family would cherish the moments they prayed, talked and laughed with her.

But the reminiscences may have been only bitter consolation for those closest to her–many of whom were still stunned and bewildered by what Rev. Jesse Jackson described as “death without rhyme or reason.” Rev. Jackson, who had been in communication with the family prior to the funeral, expressed the shock Adams’s mother, Shaneetha Goodloe, experienced upon the death of her daughter. “Shamiya’s mother said to me, ‘When other people’s children are shot, I weep for them. I didn’t know mine would be next,'” Jackson said.

“Shaneetha, you’ve been crying since July 19. God wants you to stop crying,” said Adam’s cousin, Katina Smith, in a heartfelt plea with Goodloe to hold on to her faith despite the inexplicable circumstances.

Alderman Ervin called on the people of the West Side to summon their better angels so that the family’s faith in community would be undergirded by the support it receives in tragedy and not undermined by the tragedy itself. “When the cameras are gone; when the tears are dry […] this family will still need us,” he said.

Despite the uplifting words, however, the frustration and anger was potent; the collective outrage of the roughly 1,000 mourners restrained, but seething just underneath the tears and stone faces of people like Paul Goodloe, Shanitha Adams’s grandfather. Goodloe had left the sanctuary during the eulogy, perhaps seeking the kind of solace that words can’t provide.

“It’s sad the way the City of Chicago is allowing these creeps to go on and shoot at will and take innocent lives,” Goodloe said. “They’re not discriminating about who they’re shooting. Somebody needs to stand up and do something!”

Other mourners, like Aaron McClinton, one of the Adams’s pallbearers and a best friend to both of her parents, offered solutions of their own. McClinton said that he would recommend tougher sentencing laws for those who shoot innocent children and a more vigorous police presence in neighborhoods affected most by gun violence.

“I’d put a cop on every corner every day. They got enough of them,” McClinton said. “It’s just too many kids dying in Chicago. Just yesterday, a boy got killed on California and Harrison–right by where I live. I say upgrade the sentencing for these crimes.”

Rev. Jackson admonished those in the community who witness murders and crime, but don’t tell what they see, saying that they’re “just as guilty as those who pull the trigger.” He said that 75 percent of murders aren’t solved because people won’t tell who committed them.

“Our community must not be a sanctuary to hide killers,” he said, urging those gathered to repeat after him. “Most of these murders are not solved, because we’ve been providing sanctuary,” he said, before suggesting that the community also become more actively involved in the fight to rid the streets of the lethal weapons that directly lead to tragically senseless deaths.

“We know where the guns are made […] If we would march like we mourn, we could stop mourning and just march,” he said.

Rev. Oscar Crear, who delivered the eulogy, tried calming the family’s frustration with calls for understanding. “Children, God hears you crying,” said Crear, who is the pastor the New Tiberia Baptist Church.

“It’s alright to be frustrated […] but we have to understand that [the court officials, the police and elected officials] are human just like us. I want to believe that they’re doing the best they can,” he said.

Just two days before her funeral, Chicago police announced that they’d arrested 18-year-old Tevin Lee for Shamiya Adams’s murder.

“There are no words in the English language to relieve us of the pain of losing such a special child,” Gov. Quinn had said during his comments. McClinton offered a somber correction. “We just lost two kids,” he said. VFP


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