ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — A criminal record can often be a barrier to a well paying job, making it tough for past offenders to support themselves and their families.
In Illinois, there is a process to get those records sealed or expunged.
On Friday, State Sen. Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford) hosted a “Second Chance Summit” at the Nordlof Center, 118 N Main Street, to educate residents on the free assistance.
“Both of my parents died when I was a kid, and my granny moved me here in Rockford,” said attendee Larry Wesley.
Wesley said his grandmother moves him away from Chicago because of the violence.
He admits to making some mistakes in his youth.
“My mind revolved around the streets and everything that came with the streets,” he said. “From the partying to the drugging, all of that.”
Now, Wesley says he fills out countless job applications, but potential employers won’t hire him because of his criminal record.
“It sucks to go to your mailbox, and you get five pieces of mail, all of them from different companies that you applied for, and they’re explaining to you why they won’t give you the job,” he said.
Wesley is one dozens of people trying to get their records cleared.
Stadelman started the “Second Chance Summit” last year, and says beyond helping residents in the city, the summit can help Rockford financially.
“It’s important, from an economic development standpoint, a workforce standpoint, that we get as many people who are employable and that local businesses are able to hire,” Stadelman said. “I think that’s important for a local economy, as well.”
Prairie State Legal Services provided legal consultations free of charge.
Prairie State Legal’s Kim Thielbar said, “We really see helping people with a criminal record as helping with their basic human needs, because if we can get things off their record, it can help them get a job, and support their family, and then help them get out of poverty.”
Wesley says he is working to better himself. He takes classes at the Rockford Rescue Mission, preparing to get his GED.
“I’m very optimistic in my future. I’m very optimistic in the turnaround,” he said.
Organizers of Friday’s event say it could take four or five months before a criminal record is ultimately cleared.
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