My father died from pancreatic cancer when I was a freshman in high school. As the oldest child, I gained new responsibilities; with three children to raise and no husband to provide, my mother became the sole breadwinner. I became a father-figure to my family, a role I never saw coming. I had to make sure I never burdened my mother, especially financially.
To help out with money, I resorted to illegal activity and quickly found myself one small mistake away from falling into the criminal justice system, a broken system that disproportionately impacts low-income communities and people of color. Combined with some states’ policies that make it difficult to erase a criminal record, this system has left at least 70 million Americans with some degree of a criminal background — even those who have only been arrested for certain charges and never convicted — which can impact their ability to find work and go to school. I’m one of the lucky ones who got away with it, and this is my story. What I’ve learned is that young people need a second chance when they face these obstacles, and Clean Slate laws provide that.
The above excerpt was originally published in Teen Vogue.
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