Here's Johnny - Another chance at life
A reporter walks into a building and sees a bunch of lawyers . No, this isn't a lawyer joke. Last week, I spent a few hours at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) headquarters with lots of attorneys and people who needed their help. Actually, lawyers weren't the only people lending a hand to those who needed one. Mayor Brian Traugott, Versailles Council Member Mike Coleman, state Rep. James Kay, Woodford Economic Development Authority Chairman John Soper and Versailles Police Chief James Fugate were all there. So were folks from Woodford County Adult Education, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Legal Aid of the Bluegrass. I could go on and on and perhaps I already have. These are some of the people who spent a good part of their Thursday evening at KCTCS. Several, like Woodford Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Don Vizi, who couldn't attend that night but came up with the idea, put in many hours arranging the expungement and GED pre-testing session. The goal was to help people who'd made mistakes, from committing crimes to not finishing high school, get a better chance to land a good-paying job. "We're glad to help people not have to pay for life for small indiscretions they have made - and trust me, we've all made plenty of bad mistakes and indiscretions. Some of us get caught and some don't, but it shouldn't be a life sentence ." Traugott said in introductory remarks. There were more than 40 such folks there, almost all of whom came to find out whether their criminal records could be expunged, and, if so, how to do so. Kentucky is one of many states that's made it easier for people to have some crimes expunged from their records after a certain amount of time to make it easier for them to live productive lives. Attendees were told early in the proceedings that some crimes couldn't be expunged and that others would take longer than they'd wish. They were asked to stay and tell their story privately so that their testimonials could be used to further broaden expungement rules. Not all of them did so; their disappointment must have been intense. Before the program began, I trudged up to the front of the KCTCS ballroom, introduced myself, and told attendees that I wouldn't take pictures of them without their permission. What I really wanted, I said, was to tell one of their stories. I didn't hear crickets chirping, but it was pretty quiet. Good reporters don't give up easily, though, and neither do I. Outside a room where employees of the Administrative Office of the Courts were looking up records, I approached two young ladies. I asked if either of them would tell me why they were there and what they hoped to accomplish, adding that if they preferred, I'd only use their first names. Both said yes - and that they didn't mind if I used their first and last names. I won't rehash the tales of Jennifer West and Taylor Ledford, two residents of The Nile, the non-profit, faith-based home in Versailles for adult women battling substance abuse or abuse from others. However, I will editorialize a bit. West and Ledford seemed happy and healthy and grateful to have found a place in the Nile and, on Thursday night, the opportunity to begin to knock a black mark or two off their records. Ledford had been at The Nile for 44 days, and was set to graduate the next day, after which she would move to a halfway house in Lexington. West had been there for 17 days. For the first time in a long time, they were getting regular medical and dental care, and classes and counseling designed to help them make better decisions. "They are bettering our lives in so many different ways - every aspect, they've covered," West said. She was speaking of The Nile when she said that, but, in one way or another, her praise could apply to most every lawyer, counselor and social worker at KCTCS last week. Four days later, for a brief time, the sun was eclipsed by the moon. I took pictures of folks at the Castle looking at the once-in-a-lifetime event and recorded their comments. I also thought of Jennifer West and Taylor Ledford and the others looking for new ways to overcome old problems, and hoped that the troubles that had eclipsed their lives would, in time, fade away.