Denied Clemency in Illinois? Try Sealing Your Record

Illinois' Expanded Sealing Rules Give Second Chance to Those Denied Clemency

I first wrote about my client Larry a year ago after he was denied clemency. Last week a judge granted Larry’s petition to seal his criminal record - at last closing the chapter on his addiction-fueled crime spree which began at 17 and ended at 31.

What I didn’t know a year ago was that the same governor who did not think Larry worthy of clemency was laying the ground work for Larry and others like him to receive a second chance. When Governor Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 2373 into law last August, he gave more ex-offenders an opportunity to seal their criminal background.

A Path Met with Obstacles

Larry’s journey (I have his permission to share it) shows that people who stumble as teens and young adults, can grow into law-abiding members of society. If we don’t believe people can change we will fail to see the potential many returning citizens have.

Larry, grew up with an alcoholic father and a mother who managed apartment buildings. Neither of his parents graduated from high school. Larry struggled in school. He wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until fifth grade. Larry was teased and bullied relentlessly by his classmates.

The summer before high school, Larry started drinking beer. By the end of his freshman year, he was smoking weed and using cocaine. Following his sophomore year, Larry dropped out of high school.

A year later Larry was arrested for the first time. He was charged with felony burglary and sentenced to probation. It is estimated that more than 70% of those who end up in state prison are high school dropouts. Larry’s future did not look promising.

Larry’s next arrest -- for residential burglary -- occurred while he was still on probation. He was sentenced to prison – the first of two stints he’d serve before age 20. Larry’s typical crime: breaking into cars. Larry recalls that he was usually drunk or high when he got into trouble.

In 1990, Larry picked up his fourth (and final) felony conviction. He avoided going to prison; he was sentenced to intensive, in-patient drug treatment instead.

A New Path Through Sobriety

Unfortunately, Larry struggled with his sobriety for another 10 years. A health scare in 2000 finally convinced him it was time to stop drinking and drugging.

Larry does not take his sobriety for granted. He attends AA meetings three times a week. A couple of years ago he met his wife at an AA meeting. With her encouragement and support, in 2014, Larry began working with a literacy tutor. When he first started Larry read at the second-grade level. Today, he reads at the fifth-grade level.

Despite his significant educational deficits, once sober, Larry found steady employment. While the jobs did not pay well, Larry managed.

Never Giving Up

I met Larry and his wife in 2015 and filed his clemency petition in 2016. To his credit, Larry took the governor’s clemency denial in stride. Over the years Larry’s learned not to give up on himself.

While his petition was pending, Larry was selected to participate in the CTA’s Second Chance Program. He cleans buses and rail cars. Recently, Larry completed his second year in the program. Shortly before his petition was granted, Larry learned he’d been added to the CTA’s official hire list.

A man of few words, the day after the judge granted his petition, Larry called to thank me. Larry, now 51, told me he feels like a “different man. I feel really, really good, like I never got in trouble before, though I know I did,” he said with a chuckle.

I share Larry's story to encourage anyone previously denied clemency in Illinois -- or told their record could not be sealed - that it's time to check again.