Photographs by Mitchell PE Masilun
Little Rock District Judge Vic Fleming and senior probation officer Jennifer Cummings go over paperwork Saturday during “leniency court” at the Rights After Wrongs event in Little Rock.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
Inside a packed Arkansas Workforce Center in south Little Rock, people floated from room to room to peruse pamphlets full of second chances.
On Saturday, the city of Little Rock and the Central Arkansas Re-Entry Coalition hosted Rights After Wrongs, a daylong event at 5401 S. University Ave.
Attendees could take steps to seal their criminal records, be screened for health issues, speak with potential employers, win door prizes and attend "leniency" traffic court.
Services were tailored for people who were previously incarcerated, were homeless or for anyone who, "for whatever reason, life has just hit a major bump in the road," said Leta Anthony. She leads the volunteer organization.
Last year, Patrick Rodriguez was one of those people. He'd been laid off, an unexpected life change that was "not in the equation," he said.
His mom prompted him to attend the 2017 Rights After Wrongs event. After doing so, Rodriguez landed a spot in a plumber and pipe-fitters union and found steady employment, he said.
Though Rodriguez did not get an old misdemeanor conviction expunged from his record, just knowing that was an option gave him confidence, he said.
"I stayed in one place for so long out of fear of not being able to get another job," he said.
Saturday was the second year organizers gathered lawyers, employers, nonprofits and public servants in the same building, Anthony said.
"There are a lot of services out there," she said. "But getting them connected to the services they need is really the issue."
In a small room crowded with photography equipment, Mark Mulkerin posed people against a black background to take head shots.
The photos could become LinkedIn profile pictures or accompany job applications, if need be, he said.
"I'm trying to offer people more than just doing the selfie," Mulkerin said.
Courtney Cunningham, a husband and father of three children, fixed his hair before offering a small smile to the camera.
"When you laugh, your face goes all wonderful," Mulkerin said, trying to coax Cunningham into a toothy grin.
Cunningham demurred and examined the photo after Mulkerin snapped it.
"That's alright. That's alright," he said, approvingly.
Cunningham showed up Saturday because he works two jobs to support his household. A full time job with benefits would lessen that burden, he said.
At her booth, Jeanie Stobaugh, a human resources specialist with the Arkansas Department of Transportation, displayed job descriptions for some open positions: maintenance worker, mechanic and sign erector.
Stobaugh said she wanted people to scan the descriptions and think, "Hey look. I can do this."
By noon, at least 50 people approached her booth, including Luela Wilbon, a recent college graduate interested in becoming a truck driver.
Wilbon said she got her degree in health and human performance from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. A friend of hers became a truck driver, she said. He travels across the country.
"Getting to see the mountains, the desert, the countryside" sounded enticing, Wilbon said.
In a conference room, Public Defender Peggy Egan conferred with citizens about their outstanding legal issues.
She then recounted those issues to Little Rock District Judge Vic Fleming. He presided over "leniency court" for traffic violations, though people with criminal issues also found help.
Though not a formal court of law, Fleming signed a letter for each person.
That letter would inform the presiding judge in their cases that the person had shown up, was experiencing legal hardships and was requesting "leniency in the disposition of any charges."
"I'll go ahead and address this letter to myself," Fleming said upon realizing someone from his court was in front of him.
One man told Egan and Fleming he was two years sober.
"I'm in rehab. I'm just trying to get right," the man said.
"Take it one day at a time," Fleming said. "If that's too long, take it a half day at a time."
And if that's still too long, he said, "make it until noon."
Metro on 01/14/2018
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