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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Port City United holds event to give people a second chance

Camille Mojica
Port City United's 'Fresh Chance Friday' event offered opportunities to certain expunge past convictions, giving people a second chance at housing, employment, and more.

Last week Port City United, New Hanover County’s department in charge of addressing community violence and need, held an event aimed in part at giving justice-involved individuals a second chance.

Yolanda E. Bostic is an employee at Leading Into New Communities, or LINC. She’s helping put a face on what it means to get a second chance during the Fresh Start Friday event. Bostic hopes to help remove the stigma — and provide others with the opportunities she's regained.

“I like to say that the state of North Carolina is finally forgiving a debt that I paid over 20 years ago," she said.

Walking up to the event, there’s a long line for checking in at the entrance of the MLK center, people of all ages and backgrounds. Once inside, attendees are greeted with upbeat, fun music meant to be danced to, and some people do just that as they enter and are welcomed by Port City United staff.

Director Cedric Harrison says the organizations present are the same ones they connect individuals with on a daily basis.

“So nothing really beats that human-on-human interaction. It's a lot [more] to really tell about a person, in person, than you can on paper. And so that's why this was organized and how we came about it," Harrison said.

The table with the longest line is Legal Aid North Carolina’s, offering pro bono consultations — they’re looking at people’s criminal records to see what can be expunged. Expungement means a first-time offender can have their criminal record sealed, or destroyed. So, for job interview purposes, that means an employer running a background check won’t be able to see expunged offenses.

Andre Brown, an attorney at law with Legal Aid’s Wilmington office, works with the new expungement department housed in the Harrelson Center. He says all kinds of people come for help.

“So generally, our folks who are having difficulty obtaining employment or may be applying for certain licenses, certain certifications. So, like something on the record is preventing them from doing so," he said.

Housing is also an issue, as criminal background checks are often done before someone is allowed to rent.

Legal Aid was unable to see most people waiting on line. Brown said they collected close to 200 individuals’ contact information to follow up with a consultation.

The 24/7 PCU Connect call center helped advertise the event — and the outreach team went door-to-door to help bring in people who could benefit from it, according to call center director Rashad Gattison.

"That's the purpose of us, we kind of help our clients with whatever they're going through. We don't just refer them to a resource and just leave them out there. We hold their hand all the way through. And so they're able to be in a sustainable position," Gattison said.

WHQR spoke with Yolanda Bostic, who’s been out of the justice system for over 20 years. Early on, there weren’t any resources available — and finding a job or housing was nearly impossible.

“Like I said, over the last 20 years, I had several struggles. Housing— I couldn't find a place to stay. There was a time when I was sleeping, and behind an abandoned house and an abandoned car, because when I came home, I couldn't find a place to stay," she said.

The idea of giving people a “second chance” is great, Bostic said, but sometimes it’s not enough. Growth isn’t linear, and looks different for everyone. There’s a difference between facilitating self-destructive behaviors, and choosing not to give up on someone, she said.

“Sometimes it takes more than just a second chance. Sometimes a third and a fourth and a fifth, you know, to get it right. But what you should not do is allow your past to hold you hostage … Outside of addictions, there are so many problems or issues that people have that had it not been for their support system, where would they be? So I would just tell them to think about 'did someone give up on you' and pay it forward," she said.

Despite being out for over 20 years, workplaces often denied Bostic employment due to her record. They specifically ask about crimes committed within the past 7 years, and Bostic has always responded with ‘no.’ Regardless, many would-be employers ran a full check for her record, finding a crime that’s over 20 years old. Bostic asks people to think about whether or not they’re the same people they were even five years ago.

Everyone has a story, Bostic said. And the easiest way to get to know someone is through conversation — and an open mind.

“Talk to them. Talk. It's really, that simple. Just talk. I mean, you'd be surprised, some of the most brilliant people that I had ever met, I met while I was on the inside. I mean, and then, it has no discrimination. You know, doctors, lawyers, I mean, politicians. There's no discrimination, and they're all still just people," she said.

Camille hails from Long Island, NY and graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Her story focus revolves her deep care for children, young adults and mental health. You can reach her at cmojica@whqr.org.