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Attorney, nonprofit team up to help Chicago ex-felons expunge records

Attorney, former convict help ex-felons find a fresh start
Attorney, former convict help ex-felons find a fresh start 03:09

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The process of helping former felons who have turned their lives around get a fresh start and find work often starts with getting criminal records expunged.

One former convicted felon is now teaming up with an attorney and making it his mission to help others. Some of those others have been struggling tremendously — among them James Lenoir.

"How do I move forward with my life and re-enter society when society continues to hold me back?" said Lenoir.

Lenoir was released from prison in September 2023, and has been looking for work for the past six months.

"I've been on seven job interviews," he said. "I've been turned down all seven."

It is clear why Lenoir is not getting hired.

"I keep going on job interviews, and the hurdle is my background," he said.

Lenoir has a background with a long rap sheet – dating back to when he was 18. Just months after he attended his senior prom in 2003, Lenoir committed murder - and was convicted in 2006.

"I served 20 years," he said.

Now every time he interviews, Lenoir hears the same thing.

"We can't clear your background - have you tried expungement? Have you tried talking to a lawyer?" he said. "I'm like, uh-hh, I ain't got no money."

Lenoir says he needs a job just to be able to talk to a lawyer, who of course must be paid.

"I can't go looking for help to fix something I can't afford to have a conversation about," he said.

Yet attorney Vic Aberdeen is working to change that for Lenoir and others like him.

"Offenses like Class X murder, attempted murder cannot be expunged or sealed," said Aberdeen. "However, arrests that did not result in conviction are eligible."

Besides the murder conviction, Lenoir also has outstanding arrest charges —  which can be expunged. To help him and others in such efforts, attorney Aberdeen teamed up with ex-felon Aaron Smith.

"Aaron may have a federal conviction, but what he's done in real life is more than a lot of people do with clean records," said Aberdeen.

Smith served 12 years in federal prison for heroin distribution. CBS 2 first introduced him last fall, when he went into the Cook County Jail for some motivational speaking.

Smith helps inmates change their mindset and think about life after their sentences.

"This is part of that plan," he said.

Smith has teamed up with attorney Aberdeen to put on an expungement clinic, free of charge. They are offering second chances at CityPoint Community Church in Bronzeville.

"One word – redemption," said Smith. "That's what it's about - redeeming from your past mistakes and starting over fresh."

"Just because you have a conviction or an arrest in your background doesn't mean you're a bad person," added Aberdeen.

Smith and Aberdeen already had 100 people registered for the expungement clinic as of Tuesday night. Anyone looking to have their records expunged can walk into the church and speak with attorneys.

Lenoir said he will be there on Saturday.

"Bright and early – because I want help, free help," he said. "It's a shot of hope."

The expungement and sealing event will be held from noon to 3 p.m. this coming Saturday, April 20, at CityPoint Community Church, 4338 S. Prairie Ave. More information is available through the organization Escape the Odds.

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