During a marathon Judiciary Committee hearing, Smart Justice leader Luis Delgado and ACLU of Connecticut interim campaign manager Gus Marks-Hamilton testified in support of S.B. 1019, a Clean Slate bill that would create a light at the end of the tunnel for people living with a record.
Smart Justice leader Luis Delgado told the committee:
"Good day Senator Winfield, Representative Stafstrom, Ranking Members Kissel and Fishbein and distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee,
My name is Luis Delgado and I am a Leader with the ACLU of Connecticut’s Smart Justice campaign. I believe in a society where all people, including those who have been convicted of a crime, should have an equal opportunity to contribute to society and build successful and fulfilling lives. That is why I ask that you support Senate Bill 1019, the Clean Slate legislation, that will help give people a real chance to reach their full potential and succeed after they have paid their debt to society.
As an 18-years-old young man, I wanted to serve in the Armed Forces and tried to join the Air Force. I received excellent scores on the aptitude tests, and was recruited by an officer, but there was a problem: I had a conviction. I was serving a two-year sentence of probation for marijuana possession. My probation officer at the time told the recruitment officer to tell me that I couldn’t serve this country now or ever because I was a criminal, and I would be a criminal for the rest of my life. As an 18-year-old young man, only God and I can fully understand how much those words really hurt me. In hindsight, it seems like my PO knew something about the system that I did not: that it was going to follow me for the rest of my life.
That was in 1988. I was an 18-year-old young man, a Puerto Rican and U.S. citizen by conquest, and a descendent of colonialism – these were the two main ingredients in my socialization up to this point in my life. My Mom believed that education in America was the key to success. She encouraged me to attend Eastern Connecticut State University, where again I had to explain my conviction. I enrolled in ECSU, finishing a total of five semesters, but then I was injured in a car accident as a student and was prescribed pain killers that eventually led me to struggle with substance use, and more involvement in the criminal legal system.
Living a life with a criminal record has been a challenge I don’t think anyone can understand unless they’ve experienced it firsthand. I had to learn to avoid jobs with background checks because I knew that once my conviction came to light, no matter how good of an employee I was, or how well I got along with my bosses and coworkers, I would probably be let go. And let go I was, repeatedly. I’ve been hired and told I’m a great worker, which shows in the work that I do, but then be fired because it was against company policy to employ people with a criminal record. Last year I was invited to apply for a management position for a national retailer I was working for, but I didn’t because I was afraid of having to once again explain my background.
I learned to steer clear of apartments that required background checks and have been living with friends and family for most of my life – I’ve never been able to put my own name on a lease because of my background. I’ve always been upfront and honest about my past because to me it shows my resiliency and my strengths, but it’s frustrating that instead of looking at who I am now, is has been that past conviction that defines me. But it is not who I am, it is not what I am worth and it should not be this shadow that I have to live under for the remainder of my life.
People have asked me, Why don’t you apply for a pardon? The reality is that it’s a complicated, lengthy, costly and frankly retraumatizing process. Any why do I have do all of that? If I’ve completed my sentence, been accountable for what I was supposed to do, then I should be able to move on with my life and not have to face this discrimination and stigma for the rest of my life.
Clean Slate will create the light at the end of the tunnel for people who have done their time and earned the right to rebuild their lives. Thank you for listening to my testimony today, and I’m happy to address any question you may have."
ACLU of Connecticut interim campaign manager Gus Marks-Hamilton told the committee:
"Good day Senator Winfield, Representative Stafstrom, Ranking Members Kissel and Fishbein and distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee.
My name is Gus Marks-Hamilton and I am the interim campaign manager for the ACLU of Connecticut’s Smart Justice campaign. I believe in a society where all people, including people who are living with a criminal record, should have an equal opportunity to build successful and fulfilling lives.
On March 9th of 2020, one day over a year ago, Ciara Rosati testified in front of this committee in support of Senate Bill 403, the version of the Clean Slate bill that this year’s Senate Bill 1019 closely resembles. Ciara spoke about the obstacles of living with a record as a single mother, of being turned down for apartments and employment because of her record – even being fired after she had begun working once her record came to light. When Ciara testified she was working full-time and about to graduate college. But she was afraid, afraid that she was still going to be told she was not “good enough,” and even more afraid that it would be said to her son. “What has my son done to deserve that?” she testified. “My son already faced adversities, having a parent who has been incarcerated and living in a single-parent household. But to know there is a chance that I will be told that I cannot choose to raise my son in a place that is healthy and safe because of a crime that happened seven years ago? It isn’t right.”
This is why Senate Bill 1019 is so important. People living with a criminal record are more likely to face unemployment, homelessness, poverty and death. A Connecticut resident who has a criminal record faces more than 550 legal barriers to full integration into society, including barriers to getting a jobs and licensure, housing, public benefits, civic engagement and more. But it does not have to be like this.
I was incarcerated for nearly eight years here in Connecticut. I was a much different person when I was arrested and locked up nearly 15 years ago. I am a much different person now than when I was released to a halfway house seven years ago. I turn 40 in a few weeks from now and I can only imagine that I will continue to learn and change as I grow older. At least I hope that I will. But my past record will continue to stick to me, never changing, never disappearing. That was not what I was sentenced to. I did my time, I completed parole, I completed probation. I’ve been turned away from many jobs, but I’m employed now. I vote. I’m an uncle to my nieces and nephew. I adopted a dog. I’ve tried to rebuild my life. People who have completed their sentences and had no further interaction with the criminal legal system have earned the right to move on with their lives without the shadow of a criminal record hanging over them for the rest of their lives.
I would like to close with another quote from Ciara’s testimony last year. Ciara is no longer with us, and we miss her. She said “All people deserve a second chance. I was given a second chance to have a life of meaning when God made me a parent. But I have not been given a second chance if I continue to be discriminated against. There should not be limits on a person’s second chance. A real clean slate needs to be just that – all people who have served their time deserve a fair chance to create a better life for themselves.
Thank you for listening to my testimony and I would be happy to listen to any questions the Committee members may have."