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Our Stories, Our Success: Peggy Stevenson and the Record Clearance Project

By Robert M. Foran, Communications Specialist

During our time together, Peggy Stevenson, faculty member and director of the Record Clearance Project (RCP), relayed to me the importance of our narratives and how they affect the decisions in our lives.  Our dialogue revolved around the crucial difference in either allowing the past to hold us back or the ability to use, even the most difficult and arduous episodes in our histories, as tools in empowering ourselves. This is but a small vignette of how impactful the RCP is in connecting their clients to their personal narratives and how the SJSU students guide them in the reclaiming of their lives through the telling of those stories.

Stories.  We all have them.  We human beings are socially-oriented creatures and we remember the details of our lives, for good or for ill, pleasant or not, through the telling, re-telling, and recalling of our stories.  However, there are times when certain particular threads of these narratives are too painful or too difficult to remember, but they nonetheless make up the totality of who we are, or who we think we are, at any given moment of our lives.  It is when these fragments of memory are so difficult or so embedded in our history that they inhibit our potential to become other than who we perceive ourselves to be in the present moment and it is here where the partnership between CommUniverCity and the Records Clearance Project of San Jose State University becomes a integral component of many people’s lives.

“The relief… the burden of such a weight… is lifted off the shoulders of many of our clients, with the guidance of the students who help them reconstruct their personal timelines [history], no matter how painful.” -Peggy Stevenson

Imagine yourself in a situation where you are being interviewed for a position in a company or organization that you are really excited to be a part of.  Suddenly, a question about whether you have a criminal history comes up and then the memory from five years ago comes flooding forward… you were convicted of theft. Our personal histories or timeline of events can bear enormous weight on the decision of the person interviewing you, whether chances are, you may not get that job. For those whose personal history exhibits the burden of bearing such weight through the missteps or moments of bad judgement that have led them to attain a criminal record, these events in a person’s timeline can impede one’s life from moving forward.

“The clearing of one’s criminal record can be healing and empowering… not to mention the huge changes in peoples  lives.” -Peggy Stevenson

Peggy Stevenson, a faculty member for eleven years at San Jose State University in the Justice Studies Department, developed a class project in 2008 within the framework of her “Courts and Society” course, which eventually led to the genesis of the Record Clearance Project (RCP). Working in collaboration with and supported by a working partnership with CommUniverCity SJSU, the RCP’s focus is centered on the expungement (i.e., the removal) of eligible criminal convictions that inhibit many community members who have paid for their mistakes along the way, from fully entering society by way of attaining viable employment, safe housing, student loans, and various other avenues that many of us take for granted.

Through the lens of a mentorship-driven curriculum and the guidance of Peggy Stevenson, SJSU undergraduate students engage with community members in need of support in clearing their records.  Because the recalling or the remembering of past events that an individual may have may be difficult in bringing up, this part of the process is crucial, especially when pulling together information from a client’s life events that will eventually become part of their legal representation in the courtroom.  When these threads of an individual’s story are recovered and retold through the care and respect that RCP practices, the things that once held someone back in fear or apprehension, later becomes the tools for future empowerment.

“We [at the Record Clearance Project] are motivated through the stories of success that we hear of on a daily basis!” -Peggy Stevenson

CommUniverCity’s support of the RCP has shone through the success and dedication of Peggy Stevenson and the skill of her amazing students.  In 2017-2018, the RCP has engaged over 1,830 residents, provided 10,210 hours of service in the preparing 110 cases for 38 clients, along with supplying 76 SJSU students with the necessary skills in providing legal counsel and guidance to those community members in need of criminal record expungement.  The vital importance of this community-based and community-inspired service cannot be overstated and is reflected in not only the ways in which 1,243 residents directly received information concerning their eligibility for expungement, but also through the overall monetary value of $252,09 exhibited by everyone who is involved in the RCP through volunteering their time, talent, skill, support, and dedication.

CommUniverCity is excited and proud to highlight the innovative work of Peggy Stevenson and the award-winning program she created. The RCP gives our most vulnerable residents the ability to retell their personal life stories. It also provides clients the courage to use their personal experience to help and inspire others.  The work that Peggy Stevenson, her SJSU students, along with the partnership that has been forged with CommUniverCity, will continue to strive towards providing space and resources for others to free themselves from those obstacles in their personal narratives in order to move forward… and to create a new story.  One that is hopeful and rich with new opportunities.

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