The right to be forgotten: Criminal offense box raises barriers to employment | news
For the past month, Oklahoma resident Katherine Kent has been raising funds for a wipeout.
It’s something she says she needs so she doesn’t have to work minimum-wage jobs and can spend more time with her kids. Because of her criminal record, she was denied a real estate license in May despite changing her life.
Situations like yours are why House Bill 3316 was drafted by Rep. Nicole Miller (R-Edmond) and co-authored by Rep. John Talley (R-Stillwater). The bill allows for automatic deletion — sealing one’s record — for people who already qualify. The previous process usually required the help of lawyers, time and money.
In May, Governor Kevin Stitt signed HB3316 into law. Oklahoma was the sixth state to pass automated record deletion laws in the United States to ease the burden of requesting a deletion.
Kent said HB3316 would change her life and the lives of many in her situation.
“Well, my story, there is a lot behind it. It’s quite long. Where I am right now, I’m a convicted felon with multiple drug offenses in two counties… I’m really in this place right now where I’ve spent the last 10, 11, 12 years of my life rebuilding,” she said. “I’m working to get erasure because I see this happening everywhere. and my heart just hurts. Not only for me, but also for others.”
Kent said she struggled with addiction at a young age due to trauma she faced as a child. She said certain things in her life led her down a path that would eventually land her in prison.
“My addiction, if I’m really looking at it objectively, started when I was 13,” said Kent. “But my addiction is a symptom of the problem … and so are many people.”
Kent struggled with addiction for several more years, eventually going to prison at age 21 for possession. She said she doesn’t remember how long she was in prison, but it was a three-year sentence.
“I was entitled to an ankle monitor at the time. However, because I was pregnant, the state of Oklahoma put me in maximum security because they had a medical facility,” she said. “So when I was 21 and pregnant – on a CDS charge – I was sent to maximum security prison.”
When Kent was released, she said all the trauma was still present in her life and she had relapsed again. She said it took a few relapses and more arrests before she decided she needed drug treatment to get out of prison.
“So the last time I got into trouble, I asked for the Oklahoma County Drug Court. I asked for a program to fix me because I was clearly broken,” she said. “And they gave it to me. I did everything they told me, absorbed everything… and I attribute everything I am today to that.”
Although she has been drug free for over 10 years and has had many jobs, her criminal record still impacts her life today. Once she began looking into deletions, Kent said she quickly identified issues associated with the current process.
I am looking for a deletion
The problems she faced were the same obstacles Miller presented at the interim study she hosted in August. Deletion prior to HB3316 was costly due to court hearings.
Miller said in March that by eliminating the need for attorneys, individuals who qualify for a deletion could save time and money by avoiding unnecessary court appearances. Miller said HB3316 would benefit the state by helping people who were incarcerated find employment and become productive members of society.
Effective immediately, Kent must reclassify her felony charges to misdemeanor in order to proceed with obtaining a waiver. Kent, her friends and family have been working around the clock for the past month to raise money for a lawyer, but they are still several thousand dollars short.
“And for me, there are so many aspects that just aren’t fair. I definitely understand what I did, but it’s been so long… I’ve spent the last 10 to 13 years completely rebuilding my life and changing everything in my life,” she said. “No one who meets me today would ever guess that I’ve ever been addicted to methamphetamine, or that I’m a convicted felon, or that I’ve ever been to prison.”
Kent said she understands her decisions were wrong and against the law, but she deserves a second chance.
“It’s devastating that today, as a 36-year-old mother, as a 20-year-old girl, I made decisions that are holding me back from a career and a better life for my children,” she said.
Project One Eight Zero
Kent said she was disappointed when she didn’t get approval for her real estate license. She said she spent a few days feeling upset before deciding to use it as an opportunity to improve her life and potentially help others. This is how Project One Eight Zero came to life.
Kent said she had many supportive friends and family members who were “devastated” at her rejection, so everyone helped raise funds that became Project 180.
“If you look up my file, this is not the person you are meeting today. That person on that paperwork that you don’t see today … it’s a full 180, and that’s exactly why I called it Project One Eight Zero,” she said.
Kent said she recently made it an LLC and is now working to make it a nonprofit so she can help others.
“We want to solidify donors who want to help people who are nonviolent offenders who are eligible for these deletions. Just make it a little bit easier for them,” Kent said. “It’s really hard out here with these offenses on you to be able to work and have a normal life. You have to work so much to be able to keep up at the moment.”
Kent said she lives a blessed life and has two amazing children with a massive support system. Although she lives the good life, she strives to do better, and that starts with sealing her past crimes and removing the stigma around criminal records.
“When the DEA did my background check, they said ‘no’ to this girl with an active addiction because they saw her on that background check,” Kent said. “That’s all they saw. You didn’t call me and ask about it. You didn’t see me as I am today.”