Imagine your whole life being defined by a single mistake: A bad decision when you're barely an adult that puts you at a disadvantage for education, housing and work, all your life.
That is reality for countless people with criminal records.
Now, people have a chance to clear the slate in Collin County.
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Wednesday, Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis announced an initiative to clear criminal records for people who qualify, a pricey process called expungement now offered for free through the initiative thanks to volunteer attorneys.
“I think it's all about hope. We want more opportunity. Ultimately, we want better, freer, safer communities and a big step in getting there is having people that have opportunity,” Willis said.
Willis said people convicted or even just accused of crimes, including felonies, can qualify for the program which potentially applies to thousands of people.
Examples, he said, include when someone is found not guilty or successfully completes a district attorney diversion program.
“Thank god, like a breath of fresh air,” said “Dee”, a program participant.
At just 21-years-old, “Dee" said she's eager to move on from the worst moment of her life: Being arrested and jailed for stealing diapers and household items from Walmart.
“I wasn't in school yet, felt like I was failing at life,” she said.
“Dee” wasn't convicted because she completed a diversion program.
But still, having the arrest on her record could mean a lifetime sentence of setbacks.
She considers her arrest a turning point and now, as a college student, says having her arrest record cleared means she can finally overcome a mistake from the past and focus on her future.
“It just feels good, like, it makes me want to cry, literally,” she said.