Detroiters rejoice in second chances during expungement program ceremony

"Hi, my name is Kenyatta Stovall. I'm one of 10,000," she said, raising a finger up at the podium. 

Soon after, she started to cry. 

"I'm forever grateful because I was affected because of my blemishes on my record. Project Clean Slate helped me get myself back into the medical field. I've been back in the hospital since December and I am forever grateful."

Stovall remembers the day she heard about Project Clean Slate, Detroit's expungement initiative that helps residents get their criminal convictions wiped from their record.

A blemished record can prevent someone from securing a job or housing, depriving them of opportunities that might help them return to society as productive members. But under Project Clean Slate, 10,000 people have been afforded a second chance with a clean record.

On Monday, the city celebrated those second chances and had both public officials and beneficiaries of the program speak.

"Man, what a time to be in Detroit," said Nicholas Debose. Two years ago, he had low-level drug felonies expunged from his record. On May 6, he told an audience about what life had been like since that fateful moment.

Big barriers to education and a career get lifted with expungement. But according to Debose, there are also smaller, just as significant improvements that come with having convictions waived.

"Could you imagine what the conversation at the dinner table that I would have with my wife if my mess-up from 20 years ago, right, messed up her job that she just got out of college for? That's a tough conversation to have," he said.

His partner's on-boarding experience for getting a job included Debose going through a background check. Because of the expungement and those that made it possible, "I don't have to have that conversation."

He added "It's these little things that happen all over the place."

During a recent job offer he received, he said he was able to negotiate his salary for the first time in his life. "That was a really big deal. I felt like I could do that because I felt worth it and that was because I walked in without that cloud over my head."

Thirteen people lead the program, which helps walk those who are eligible for expungement through the process of wiping convictions off their record. It's available only to Detroit residents. Requirements include: 

  • No more than 3 felonies and unlimited misdemeanors (with exclusions).
  • Waiting periods vary (3, 5, or 7 years).
  • Traffic convictions may be expunged (with exclusions).
  • "One Bad Night" allows convictions committed during same incident to be treated as one conviction (with exclusions).