Source: The KY Standard
In 2010, Timi-Michelle Tolhurst made a mistake.
The Meade County resident was arrested for drug possession, a Class D felony. She could have fallen into the same trap that many before her did, but she knew she wanted more out of her life.
So while waiting for her case to make its way through the judicial system, Tolhurst enrolled at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College and earned an associate’s degree in science. She also showed good behavior during this time and didn’t have to serve any jail time.
“I just had to pay fees and restitution,” Tolhurst said.
She also quickly found out that her one mistake came with a price.
“Even with an associate’s degree in science I couldn’t get a job because I had to mark that box (on a job application),” Tolhurst said.
That box she was referring to was the one that asks if you have ever been convicted of a felony. For many job seekers who have to check off this box, it’s usually the kiss of death. Not many employers want to take a chance on a convicted felon.
That’s where the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board and its Expungement Benefit Program comes in. The Lincoln Trail Region includes Breckinridge, Grayson, Hardin, LaRue, Marion, Meade, Nelson and Washington counties.
“As needs for skills and available workers continues to grow, the task force is creating new paths for residents of our region to enter the work force,” said Julia Springsteen, an attorney at law and co-chair of the Removing Obstacles Subcommittee of the LTWDB Workforce Crisis Task Force. She noted that more than 40 percent of the region’s working age adults are not working or are trying to find employment, and there are a lot of complicated reasons behind that, one of those being prior felony convictions.
“That’s why we created the Expungement Benefit Program,” Springsteen said. “A person is eligible for expungement if they have a misdemeanor or Class D felony conviction, if they were acquitted or the charges were dismissed, or they received a pardon from the governor.” She added that sex offenders or those with offenses against children were not eligible.
Tolhurst did receive a pardon from former Gov. Steve Beshear. She thought that would be the end of it. She soon found out it wasn’t.
“I was pardoned but it didn’t clear my record,” Tolhurst said.
Before she was pardoned, she worked numerous jobs to make ends meet, including waiting tables and working at a gas station. Her sister encouraged her to attend Western Kentucky University and finish her degree. That’s where she met Donielle Lovell, PhD, a sociology professor at WKU and director of regional programming and associate professor and co-chair of the Removing Obstacles Subcommittee. She told her how hard it was for a person to get a job with a felony conviction. Lovell starting doing expungement information sessions and found out some interesting facts.
“The vast majority of people who had felony convictions over 10 years old had moved on, some had families, and yet those convictions still caused them problems when looking for jobs, volunteering at their children’s schools and other areas that we take for granted,” Lovell said. She also said that the one to five years that a person has to wait to have their record expunged is the most delicate and challenging time, because that’s when they are most likely to commit another felony.
“This program is designed for employers to assist employees with the expungement process and the associated costs to remove the Class D felony conviction from their record,” Lovell said. “Many employers already have retention programs; why not a bonus that pays for expungement fees?” She also noted that a lot of convicted felons want to go into fields that help other people, but with a conviction on their record, they can’t. “You can’t work with children, be a social worker or work in the medical field if you are a convicted felon. Sometimes the very best people who are qualified to help those vulnerable individuals are people who have experienced it firsthand.”
For Tolhurst, having her conviction expunged from her record has made all the difference in her life. In 2010, she met the man who is now her husband. They have been married seven years, have two children and own a farm. In 2016, she completed her sociology degree from WKU, and for the past three years she has worked as a medical assistant at Hardin Memorial Health, the third generation of her family to be employed there. It was through the program and HMH that she was able to get her conviction expunged.
“This program is designed for employers to assist employees with the expungement process and the associated costs to remove the Class D felony conviction from their record,”
Donielle Lovell | Sociology professor, wku
“I feel proud that Timi works for HMH,” said Myra Covault, vice president and chief human resource officer with Hardin Memorial Health. She explained that for every 12 months a person with a conviction works at HMH, $1,000 is set aside to help pay for the expungement, as long as they stay in good standing. “This creates a chance for individuals who want to work. We make it as simple as possible for employers to use and to model after our success. This is as good of a win-win as it could be. If you stay committed to working and doing a good job for us over a period of 12 months, we are setting aside funds earmarked for expungement.”
“Felons aren’t always bad people,” Tolhurst said. “You make one mistake — sometimes that’s a misdemeanor and you don’t see it (and) sometimes it’s a felony and you do. Just the other day I received notification that my record was expunged. Last week I had a background check run and it came back clean for the first time in 10 years. It was pretty exciting to see that. I want to thank HMH team for stepping up, and Myra Covault.”