Ex-Felons Work in SF to Change Their Records

Serginho Roosblad
Mission Local
September 29, 2016

More than two dozen people came to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union’s office at 1980 Mission St. on Saturday to start the process of having certain non-violent felonies removed from their criminal records.

The event was organized by the union, which represents more than a million workers in retail and food and meat processing industries.

“Many people have difficulties finding a job because they’ve been convicted of a felony in the past,” said Jennifer Garcia, a local union representative.

The ability to change a felony conviction to a misdemeanor was made possible by Proposition 47, which was approved by 59 percent of California voters in 2014.

Estimates are that “one million people in the state of California are eligible to have their felony reduced,” said Marisa Arrona, Proposition 47 director for Californians for Safety and Justice, which works with the labor union on the issue.

Robin Williams, vice president of the union, said restorative rights are especially important for workers. “When you get out of jail, how do you take care of your family if you can’t get a job?”

In addition to employment opportunities, some 3,000 laws restrict felons, said Arrona.

“With a felony on your record you can’t get a cosmetic or barber license. You can’t apply for Section 8 housing, you can’t get a Pell Grant to enroll in higher education. Reducing people’s felonies opens the door to so many things,” she said.

The event on Saturday was about halfway through when Latrice Minor walked into the union’s office with a confused look on her face. Minor learned about the event and possibility to change her record only by coincidence.

“My mother got a text message about this day, but it was sent to the wrong number,” Minor said. “I didn’t know this existed. I think it was a message of God.”

Garcia checked her in and then sent her upstairs to start the application process.

“If you know any other people who might qualify, have them come over,” Garcia said, as Minor walked up the stairs. “They don’t have to be union members, we help everybody.”

As Minor walked up, she passed a middle aged man who had just finished his application. If he succeeds, he said, he will be able to apply for citizenship.

“This makes me feel good,” said Garcia. “If we can help even one person change his life, then I’m happy.”

Still many people are unaware of the existence of Proposition 47. Arrona said that so far only 250,000 petitions have been filed. Some felons have multiple cases on their criminal record, and each one of them is counted separately.

Union representatives fear that too few people have applied and hope that Governor Jerry Brown will sign Assembly Bill 2765, which is now on his desk. Once signed, it will extend Proposition 47’s provisions until 2022. At present, it is due to sunset in November 2017.

Williams attributed the relatively low number of people who have taken advantage of the change to a lack of education about their rights.

“People are not educated,” said Williams, adding that there were many rights former convicts are unaware of. For example, after completion of parole, formerly incarcerated people can register to vote.

Upstairs, Latrice Minor was halfway through her application process, scanning her finger prints for verification. The union financially assists people like Minor to request their RAP sheet, which normally costs between $50 and $90.

In a few weeks she’ll receive her rap sheet. Once that happens she will return to the union’s office and an attorney will go over her application to see if she’s eligible to reduce her felonies to misdemeanors or other clean slate remedies. Once the attorney believes she’s eligible, he’ll send the paperwork to the court and Minor will receive a ruling a couple of weeks later. The whole process takes less than two months.

Minor hopes that with her felonies reduced, she can move on from a past that has haunted her for ten years.

“I used to work as a secretary, but I was making very little money,” she said.

In an effort to raise her income, she has been applying for jobs, but she keeps “hitting a wall.” Now she cleans the Muni buses at night.

“I don’t want to do this job all my life. I was young and I made mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. But I’m not going to give up,” Minor said.