For five days now Andre Pattersons voice mail has been full. When he goes out, people who have seen his picture in the paper are stopping him and asking him questions.
They all want to know the same thing. How do you go about sealing old felony criminal records?
A new law took effect in July that allows people to seal those records if they have paid the penalty and not been arrested for several years, up to 10 years for more serious offenses, after being released.
The concept behind the law is that people who were arrested on a felony charge when they were young shouldnt have to pay a price for their entire lives, being turned down for jobs decades later.
Last week, Patterson, who is the outreach coordinator for the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at IPFW and also chair of the Fort Wayne Commission on the Social Status of African American Males, put together some special meetings where attorneys and felons could learn about the new law and how it works.
Patterson was surprised by the reaction. More than 160 people registered for one of the meetings, and that doesnt count the number that didnt sign up. People showed up hours early for a second meeting just to make sure they got in.
And in the days since, people have been calling Patterson and stopping him in public wanting more information.
That doesnt count the number of people who have called and emailed the newspaper wanting more information.
The plan now is to have a second workshop, where people can get assistance, and Patterson is hoping to find lawyers who might be willing to work pro bono (for free) for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning to help people apply to have their old felony records sealed.
Because of the outpouring of interest, I want to do a working session, Patterson said.
Getting old records sealed isnt a snap.
People need a copy of their most recent updated court docket sheet from the county or counties where their cases were handled. They need a copy of their complete criminal history to date, which can be found on the Indiana State Police website.
Finally they need any appellate court documents in order to correctly file to have their records sealed.
Then, they will need someone who understands the law.
Do not attempt to fill this out yourself, Patterson said. You only get one shot. If someone makes a mistake in their filing, they have to wait another two years to file again, he said.
Thats why hes hoping to find lawyers who will be willing to help.
Among the agencies that are handling cases of this nature is Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, which can be found online at nclegalclinic.org. It serves low-income people on a first-come, first-served basis.
There are plenty of people out there who could benefit from the law. The numbers of people have surprised Patterson.
I was in the grocery store and they recognized me from the paper, thinking Im an attorney, Patterson said. Were going to have to do something.
Patterson suggested people who want to know more about the law go to www.in.gov and do a search for expungement law.
There they can find an explanation of the law and who is eligible to have records sealed.
When another workshop is planned, Patterson will announce it.